Borussia Dortmund visit Freiburg on Sunday in a match that will be as tricky as it is critical for both teams as they near the final stretch of the 2013-14 Bundesliga campaign.
The hosts enter matchday 24 in 17th place in the league table, level on points with Hamburg and Stuttgart. The Baden-Wurttemberg side need all the points they can get now; they can consider themselves safe from relegation with a season finish in 15th place or better.
Dortmund are always a tough side to beat, but there are cracks in the armor of the visitors, who despite being second in the Bundesliga at present are an entirely beatable team. Tactics could play a decisive role on Sunday, and coaches Jurgen Klopp of BVB and Freiburg's Christian Streich will surely be wary as they formulate plans for the upcoming match.
Surely the biggest tactical hurdle for the visitors to overcome will be in selecting a player to lead the front line.
Robert Lewandowski and Marvin Ducksch are both sidelined with injuries, and third striker Julian Schieber—who recently told Goal.com's Hassan Talib Haji he was considering leaving the club—has played only 50 minutes in the Bundesliga this season.
If Schieber is given a rare start, Klopp will be counting on Marco Reus and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to provide goals from the wings. But an entirely plausible alternative would be to put Aubameyang, who is just two goals behind Bundesliga top scorer Lewandowski with 13 thus far, in the striker position with Reus, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Kevin Grosskreutz in support.
Aubameyang has little experience as a center-forward but has the right physical and technical attributes for the role. His direct style of play could be a nightmare for the Freiburg defense, but it would nonetheless be a challenge for him to adapt.
Klopp will have to carefully consider whether to use Schieber or Aubameyang up front: His decision could make the difference between a win and being held scoreless.
Streich has a potential ace in his hand, in that Freiburg are one of the most industrious, high-pressing teams in the Bundesliga. They've covered an average of 122.05 km per game since the winter break, including an incredible 126.19 km effort against Leverkusen, according to official Bundesliga live ticker.
Dortmund are notoriously fit as well but have played more games than a Freiburg side that will be more fresh heading into Sunday's action. And critically, BVB have in Sebastian Kehl a central midfielder who at 34 years of age no longer has all the energy and quickness of yesteryear. The captain has done very well standing in for Sven Bender, but whether he still has the fitness to keep pace with Valmar Darida (who clocks in at 13.13 km per 90 minutes) and Gelson Fernandes (12.58) must be called into question.
To avoid Kehl being overrun in midfield, BVB could use an early goal. That will be difficult without their most dangerous attacking weapon in the lineup, and the longer BVB go without taking the lead, the more Kehl will be forced into advanced positions.
If Freiburg close down space well and hold out defensively, their patience will surely be rewarded with opportunities to counterattack.
Much of Freiburg's hope of keeping a clean sheet will rest on the shoulders of Matthias Ginter. Although he only recently celebrated his 20th birthday, the center-back earned his first cap for Germany on Wednesday as a substitute against Chile.
Ginter has been closely linked with a move to Dortmund since January, when he revealed to Bild that he'd held negotiations with the Ruhr side. Sunday could prove to be an audition for the player, who will have extra pressure to perform.
It's uncertain whether the versatile central player will be deployed in midfield or defense, but Streich will surely have Ginter in mind as he formulates his strategy to focus on either stopping Dortmund's advances in midfield or closing down play in and near the box.
Klopp and Streich are two of the Bundesliga's best and most entertaining young coaches. Both share a similar footballing philosophy, and Sunday's match therefore promises to be quite a spectacle as they try to find the right tweaks to grab any edge possible.
One thing's for sure: If there is a winner, the team will certainly have earned the three points following what will undoubtedly be a yeoman's effort.
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