When Schalke host Borussia Dortmund on Saturday in German football’s fiercest derby, the two sides’ contrasting fortunes will be on full display.
Dortmund come into the fixture in challenging for a title, while Schalke are looking for valuable points to avoid a direct return to the second division.
On paper, the clash should be a lay up for Dortmund.
The visitors sit second on goal difference and have chalked up eight straight victories in the league to start 2023. Dortmund have won their last four matches over Schalke, the longest streak since the ’60s.
Schalke, unbeaten in six, would love nothing more than to claim derby bragging rights while also lifting themselves from the relegation mire and derailing a Dortmund title challenge, as they did a few seasons ago.
Dortmund’s last serious title challenge, in the 2018-19 season, unravelled with the finishing line in sight against Schalke.
Dortmund’s lead atop the table, once as much as nine points, was being gradually whittled away by a fast-finishing Bayern.
Schalke travelled to Dortmund and won 4-2 against a frazzled home side, who finished with nine men after losing two players, including captain Marco Reus, to direct red cards in a five-minute period in the second half.
The loss proved crucial as Dortmund finished two points behind Bayern in second place on the table at the end of the season.
While fans tend to care more about derbies than players and coaches due to the international nature of modern football, Saturday’s clash will be a rare exception.
Local boy Danny Latza will captain Schalke, while both Reus and manager Edin Terzic were born and raised in Dortmund.
Making his derby debut, Schalke manager Thomas Reis said on Thursday he was happy to “be in the thick of it for the first time”.
Also on derby debut, Dortmund centre back Nico Schlotterbeck said after his side’s disappointing Champions League exit to Chelsea on Thursday “now, only the derby counts”.
Dortmund goalkeeper Gregor Kobel, who comes into the match under an injury cloud, said on Tuesday Schalke’s “fight for survival” added spice to the encounter.
One to watch: Florian Wirtz (Bayer Leverkusen)
If Bayer Leverksen are to sneak into the European placings this season, the teenage German midfielder will need to continue pulling the strings.
His importance was illustrated by his absence during Leverkusen’s horror start to the season, where they were eliminated from the Champions League and slipped close to the relegation spots.
With four assists and two goals in his last six matches, Wirtz is Leverkusen’s creative heart, despite being just 19.
Leverkusen manager Xabi Alonso, who knows his fair share about creativity, told Kicker on Wednesday “his game intelligence makes us better.”
1-0 – Augsburg beat Bayern 1-0 in September in the league, one of only two defeats inflicted on the German champions in all competitions this season.
2 – Hoffenheim has picked up two points in their past 13 league fixtures, a run which has seen a fall from the Champions League spots to the relegation places.
8 – Dortmund are on a run of eight league victories in a row, the equal most in club history.
Fixtures (all times 1430 GMT unless otherwise stated)
Cologne FC v Bochum (1930)
Bayern Munich v Augsburg, RB Leipzig v Borussia Moenchengladbach, Eintracht Frankfurt v Stuttgart, Hertha Berlin v Mainz, Schalke v Borussia Dortmund (1730)
Freiburg v Hoffenheim, Werder Bremen v Bayer Leverkusen (1630), Wolfsburg v Union Berlin (1830)