The current international break cut both ways for Borussia Dortmund.
On one hand, it halted the club's great momentum after the turn of the year. The Black and Yellows are the only unbeaten side in Germany, having won all but two of their 15 matches across competitions, while only conceding five goals.
Dortmund were flying before their players did the same—no pun intended.
On the other hand, the international break afforded the players an important breather after a busy part of the schedule with six straight weeks with midweek fixtures. Even players who travelled with their national teams will have had "the opportunity to regenerate mentally thanks to a change of scenery," as head coach Thomas Tuchel put it after the last match before the break in action, a 3-1 come-from-behind win over Augsburg.
The 42-year-old has to hope his players' batteries are fully loaded, because April won't be any less challenging for the Black and Yellows.
Dortmund are set to play eight games in that month—nine if they eliminate Liverpool in the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals. Those matches include the DFB-Pokal semi-final against Hertha BSC and the local derby with Schalke 04, too.
It'll be a season-defining stretch of football for the Ruhr side, and they'll need every player to be at the top of his game.
Here are three players who must hit form after the international break.
Defensive-midfielder-turned-centre-back Sven Bender had fought his way back into the first-choice XI after missing six matches to start the new year with a tendon irritation, only to pick up a muscle injury in the first leg of the Europa League round-of-16 tie with Tottenham Hotspur.
The 26-year-old returned to team training before the Easter holidays, per Marc-Andre Landsiedel of local paper Ruhr Nachrichten (link in German), and should be good to go when Dortmund restart their campaign with a home match against Werder Bremen at the weekend.
Bender has arguably been the best partner for team captain Mats Hummels in central defence this season and could be especially important because of his passing ability in build-up play. Opposing teams have had good success man-marking Hummels and leaving the responsibilities in the build-up to Sokratis Papastathopoulos, as the stat from the Augsburg match tweeted by WhoScored.com shows:
Unlike the Greece international, Bender has a good enough passing range to make teams think twice about caring only about Hummels.
Like Bender, Ilkay Gundogan is coming back from an injury. Dortmund's midfield mastermind missed the last four matches across competitions with a bruised foot suffered in team training before the first meeting with Spurs.
Now, the Black and Yellows won all four games in rather impressive fashion, but Gundogan's return to form will still be very important, especially in the clashes with Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool and their aggressive pressing.
"Playing passes others can’t see and driving through gaps in pressing that others can’t beat, the number of attacks he launches or adds something to is insane," wrote Lewis Ambrose for YellowWallPod.com, and Dortmund bank on Gundogan reaching that level again quickly after the international break.
The Germany international returned to the training ground on Tuesday, per Sky Germany's Sascha Bacinski.
Japan international Shinji Kagawa wasn't injured before the international break, he was simply miles off his game. Playing only 26 minutes combined in the two meetings with Spurs and not even being in the squad for the goalless draw with Bayern Munich, Kagawa has fallen down the depth chart in recent weeks.
"Kagawa seems to have lost his mojo" wrote ESPN FC's Stefan Buczko after another rather quiet performance from the Japanese against Augsburg—Buczko rated him four out of 10.
It's not like Dortmund don't have other players to fill Kagawa's position, as Gonzalo Castro and Moritz Leitner have done very well in recent weeks, but, on top of his game, the 27-year-old adds a different dimension to his side.
A sublime technician with a great feel for space and situations, the diminutive playmaker's return to the form he showed earlier in the season would be a big boost in the Black and Yellows' trophy hunt.