Storylines abound in the run-up to Saturday’s match between Bundesliga title rivals Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich.
Mario Gotze, the former Dortmund star, will be making his first appearance at the Westfalenstadion since completing a €37 million move to Bayern last summer, and current Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski continues to be linked with a switch to the treble holders, having reportedly agreed a pre-contract agreement according to a report earlier this month in the Mirror.
Those are just two of narratives ahead of kickoff, but while they may be the most intriguing they are hardly the most important—at least as far as the managers are concerned.
Given the injury bug that has felled a handful of players from each side in recent days, Saturday’s match will be a test of depth and guts. Neither outfit will be fielding its ideal lineup; both will be inserting players with something to prove. And the team that digs deepest for energy following the international break will likely take the three points.
On Thursday Dortmund took the unusual step of tweeting the possible teamsheets for the encounter, and in doing so revealed that Manuel Friedrich—signed just a day earlier—would be starting against Bayern.
The 34-year-old, whose contract with Bayer Leverkusen expired several months ago, was acquired as cover for injured defenders Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic and will play alongside Sokratis Papastathopoulos in the centre of defense. And with preferred full-backs Lukasz Piszczek and Marcel Schmelzer also sidelined Kevin Grosskrutz and Erik Durm will complete an entirely makeshift backline for manager Jurgen Klopp.
Thankfully for the hosts they won’t have to go up against the reigning European Footballer of the Year.
A Thursday statement on Bayern’s official website revealed Franck Ribery would be staying in the Bavarian capital to nurse a rib injury suffered against Ukraine in World Cup qualifying, and the Frenchman is also unlikely to feature against CSKA Moscow on Wednesday in the Champions League.
Striker Claudio Pizarro and winger Xherdan Shaqiri have also been ruled out with muscle injuries, and midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger has an ankle problem that will keep him out of the team until the New Year.
As a result it’s possible that Philipp Lahm could be deployed in the centre of the park, although with Javi Martinez back to full strength following a groin injury manager Pep Guardiola may opt to use Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos and Gotze in a playmaking foursome behind striker Mario Mandzukic.
As far as depth is concerned, it would seem Bayern have it in better supply than Dortmund. But they have never been so short-staffed in Guardiola’s brief time at the club and will get a proper test in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Dortmund, however, will need to dig deep to provide it. They’ve shown in the past that their best XI is more than capable of beating Bayern, but the team that takes the field on Saturday will little resemble those sides that enjoyed such successes.
It’s gut-check time for them, and their title hopes could well rest with how they respond to their present adversity.