Schalke 04 host Borussia Dortmund on Matchday 29 of the 2015/16 Bundesliga season on Sunday. It's the 148th edition of the Revierderby, as the meeting between German football's two fiercest local rivals is called.
The derby comes at an inopportune time for the visitors, smack in the middle between the two meetings with Liverpool in the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals. The games against archrivals Schalke are usually among the biggest on the calendar, but even hardcore fans will have to agree that things are different this year.
Not least because a whopping 23 points separate the two clubs in the Bundesliga table—Schalke are actually closer to the relegation zone than to Dortmund.
Despite their disappointing campaign so far, the Royal Blues are still right in the thick of the hunt for the UEFA Champions League spots, sitting seventh in the table but only five points behind third-placed Hertha BSC, who drew with soon-to-be relegated Hannover 96 on Friday, and one point behind Borussia Monchengladbach in fourth place.
It's arguably a bigger game for Schalke than for Sunday's visitors, seeing as their hopes of winning the Bundesliga title are faint and the second leg of the Europa League looms large.
The Black and Yellows won the first derby of this season 3-2 in one of the most thrilling games of the season, but they have only once completed the double over Schalke since the turn of the millennium, in the 2011/12 season.
Date: Sunday, April 10
Time: 2:30 p.m. BST/9:30 a.m. ET/3:30 p.m. local time
Venue: Veltins-Arena, Gelsenkirchen
TV Info: BT Sport ESPN (UK only)/FS 1 (U.S. only)
Live Stream: BT Sport live streaming (UK only)/Fox Soccer 2Go (U.S. only)
|Hamburg: Win (3-2)||Mainz: Win (2-0)|
|Cologne: Win (3-1)||Tottenham: Win (2-1)|
|Hertha: Loss (2-0)||Augsburg: Win (3-1)|
|Monchengladbach: Win (2-1)||Bremen: Win (3-2)|
|Ingolstadt: Loss (3-0)||Liverpool: Draw (1-1)|
Midfielder Leon Goretzka suffered a shoulder injury and has been ruled out for the match, per the club's official website. He joins team captain Benedikt Howedes, Atsuto Uchida, Sidney Sam and Marco Hoger on the injury list. Bayern loanee Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg should start in Goretzka's stead.
Centre-back Matija Nastasic returned to team training during the week, per the club on Twitter, but the game will come too soon for the Serbia international, who's only played 17 minutes in the Bundesliga this season having ruptured his Achilles tendon on the first matchday in August.
Up front, Franco di Santo disappointed in the 3-0 loss at Ingolstadt and is set to make way for veteran striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. The 32-year-old scored both of his side's goals in the first meeting with Dortmund.
Predicted Starting XI: Fahrmann; Caicara, Matip, Neustadter, Kolasinac; Geis, Hojbjerg; Sane, Meyer, Belhanda; Huntelaar.
A number of changes are expected, with head coach Thomas Tuchel saying after the Liverpool match, per the club's official website: "We absolutely want to win. We also have to manage the physical condition very carefully. There will be changes, but we will still put a good team out there nevertheless."
Neven Subotic is out for the rest of the season with thrombosis in his arm. Back-up striker Adrian Ramos is set to return to the team after missing the match in midweek with lumbago, per the club on Twitter (link in German).
Ilkay Gundogan should make his return after missing the last six matches with a bruised foot, while a few players who didn't feature against Liverpool are set to start. Roman Burki will return in goal despite Roman Weidenfeller's world-class performance in the Europa League.
Predicted Starting XI: Burki; Ginter, Sokratis, Hummels, Schmelzer; Gundogan, Sahin, Kagawa; Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang, Reus.
Players to Watch
Winger Leroy Sane has been a bright spot in a difficult campaign under first-year head coach Andre Breitenreiter so far. Having debuted for Germany in November, the 20-year-old is the latest in the line of great talents the Royal Blues have produced in recent years.
Son of former Bundesliga striker Souleyman Sane, Schalke's No. 19 went through a bit of a rough patch earlier in the year, culminating in a spot on the bench for four games in a row in late February and early March, but he was his side's best attacking option in both the win against Gladbach and the loss at Ingolstadt.
As for Dortmund, Gundogan's return will be key not only to this match, but also the second leg in the Europa League. It's of the utmost importance that the Germany international finds his form quickly, and Schalke will be a very good test.
If he doesn't start, the focus could shift to Shinji Kagawa. The Japanese playmaker didn't see the field against Liverpool in midweek, with 17-year-old U.S. international Christian Pulisic being preferred as a substitute late in the game.
Kagawa scored as a substitute himself in the 3-2 win over Werder Bremen on the previous matchday, but he'll want to start these important games, so a good performance in the derby could earn him a spot for Thursday.
Leroy Sane vs. Dortmund's Full-Backs
Sane can play on both wings or as a secondary striker, but we expect him to start out on the right side. There, he's set to go against Marcel Schmelzer, unless Tuchel rests his most consistent defender of the campaign.
At any rate, Sane is a tough matchup for any full-back because of his pace and technical skills. He'll run at defenders only to cut inside and get a shot off with his strong left foot. Sane has only scored once since October 31, but don't let that number fool you: He's his side's most dangerous attacker.
Ralf Fahrmann vs. Dortmund's Attack
Schalke's goalkeeper Ralf Fahrmann regularly plays at his best against Dortmund. Despite conceding three goals in the earlier meeting this season, he was arguably the best player on the pitch. The 27-year-old also won his side the game against Gladbach almost single-handedly before the international break.
After the first Revierderby of the season, this writer noted that "it borders on the ridiculous that Fahrmann has yet to receive a call-up to the national team," and that still holds true.
Dortmund's attack sputtered a bit against Liverpool, as their only goal came from a set piece and they didn't create too many goalscoring opportunities throughout the 90 minutes. Getting back on track against Schalke will be a tough task with a 'keeper as good as Fahrmann facing them, however.
Odds (via Odds Shark)