FC Augsburg host Borussia Dortmund on Matchday 27 of the 2015/16 Bundesliga season in WWK-Arena on Sunday.
It's a meeting of two sides on very different runs of form: The hosts have won only one of their last 11 competitive matches—a 1-0 victory over last-placed Hannover in February—while the Black and Yellows are still unbeaten in the calendar year and are coming off another impressive win over Tottenham Hotspur in the UEFA Europa League.
Augsburg are 13th in the table, only three points ahead of the first direct relegation spot, currently held by Hoffenheim. Head coach Markus Weinzierl is confident nonetheless, per Mounir Zitouni of sport magazine Kicker (link in German), saying this week that his team could be the first to beat Dortmund this year because it showed time and time again they can win points against the best teams in the league.
Dortmund, on the other hand, know they still have an ever-so-small chance at the title, sitting five points behind Bayern Munich, so they need to keep churning out results in case the table-toppers slip up in the last few matches of the season.
The home fans might hope for a European hangover in the Black and Yellows' ranks; however, Sunday's visitors have won all but one league match following Europa League matches, with their single loss coming in October at Bayern.
Sunday will be the third contest of the season after the two sides met in the DFB-Pokal round of 16 in December. Dortmund have won both previous matchups of the campaign, beating Augsburg 5-1 in the league and 2-0 in the cup.
Sunday's hosts have never beaten Dortmund at home and only once managed to win a point—and that came in the first meeting at WWK-Arena in 2012.
Date: Sunday, March 20
Time: 4:30 p.m. GMT/12:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. local time
Venue: WWK-Arena, Augsburg
TV Info: BT Sport Europe (UK only)/Fox Deportes (U.S. only)
Live Stream: BT Sport live streaming (UK only)/Fox Soccer 2Go (U.S. only)
|Liverpool: Loss (1-0)||Darmstadt: Win (2-0)|
|Monchengladbach: Draw (2-2)||Bayern: Draw (0-0)|
|Hoffenheim: Loss (2-1)||Tottenham: Win (3-0)|
|Leverkusen: Draw (3-3)||Mainz: Win (2-0)|
|Darmstadt: Draw (2-2)||Tottenham: Win (2-1)|
Weinzierl's side will get a boost in the return of captain Paul Verhaegh after the right-back missed the 2-2 draw at Darmstadt with a cold. Jeffrey Gouweleeuw could also return in central defence after sitting out the last match with a suspension.
Raul Bobadilla, meanwhile, trained individually during the week following muscle problems, and Weinzierl isn't sure if he'll make it in time, per Zitouni.
Another spot up for grabs is at left-back, where Philipp Max could replace Konstantinos Stafylidis.
Predicted starting XI: Hitz; Verhaegh, Gouweleeuw, Klavan, Max; Baier; Esswein, Kohr, Koo, Caiuby; Finnbogason.
Ilkay Gundogan is still suffering from a bruised foot and could be kept out of the lineup as a precautionary measure. Sven Bender pulled a muscle in the first leg against Spurs and is likely still not an option either. Sokratis Papastathopoulos, meanwhile, had to leave the pitch early in midweek but should be good to go seeing as the club haven't announced an injury so far.
Head coach Thomas Tuchel usually rotates quite a bit following Europa League matches, so some changes are expected. Nuri Sahin didn't play at White Hart Lane and is a prime candidate for a start, for example, while Shinji Kagawa and Erik Durm only came on during the second half. Don't be surprised to see Adrian Ramos start in the attacking trio.
As Tuchel told the media in Saturday's press conference, Gabon international Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang might not play. After the death of his grandfather, it's up to the Gabonese to decide whether he wants to rejoin the team for the match or stay with his family.
Predicted Starting XI: Burki; Piszczek, Sokratis, Hummels, Schmelzer; Durm, Sahin, Kagawa; Mkhitaryan, Ramos, Reus.
Players to Watch
Augsburg have struggled for goals for major parts of the season but have found their goalscoring boots in recent weeks. It's no surprise that attacking midfielder Ja-Cheol Koo has been a big part of their sudden burst of goals. The South Korean is a very tidy player who always seems to be in the right position to poach a goal.
His hat-trick against Bayer Leverkusen might not have earned his side a win—Leverkusen equalised through a penalty in stoppage time—but it showed that Koo, a player Tuchel brought in while at Mainz, is on top of his game at the moment. He has four goals and two assists to his name in the last five league matches.
As for Dortmund, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang loves to play Augsburg. The Gabonese has scored two of his three hat-tricks for the club against the Swabians, one of them in the first Bundesliga meeting this season.
We've lamented his running hot and cold in front of goal in 2016, but maybe his two-goal performance at White Hart Lane means he's back to his deadly self. If he indeed doesn't play, eyes will be on Adrian Ramos, who hasn't gotten a ton of chances to prove his worth up front this season.
Marwin Hitz vs. Dortmund's Attack
Augsburg's Swiss goalkeeper Marwin Hitz is easily his side's player of the season so far. Kicker (link in German) even rate him as the best 'keeper in the Bundesliga this campaign.
Very good on the line and blessed with fantastic reflexes, the 28-year-old has saved his club a number of vital points already. Dortmund's prolific attack could be one of his biggest tests yet, however.
As stat provider Opta pointed out after the previous matchday, Dortmund are scoring goals at a historic rate in the league:
If his team are to follow the words of Weinzierl and pull off a sensation against the Black and Yellows, Hitz needs to have a big day.
Odds (via Odds Shark)