The first fifteen games of the 2016-17 Bundesliga season haven’t gone entirely to plan for Borussia Dortmund, in the sixteenth and final one before Christmas they will be looking to end on a jolly note against FC Augsburg.
In one of the most unpredictable seasons of recent times, poor away from sees them languishing in fifth place and out of the current reckoning at the summit of the table in a year when Bayern Munich don’t seem so invincible.
Against Augsburg on Tuesday though they will be hoping to make amends and at least make up some ground on Bayern and RB Leipzig before those two meet on the following night. However Augsburg, under interim coach Manuel Baum, will be out to get them.
Shaky form for both sides, but Dortmund on brink of unbeaten record
Dortmund have been in erratic form of late, which has left them ten points behind Bayern and Leipzig, not ideal near the halfway point of the season. They have won just one of their last four league matches, including two draws against 1. FC Köln and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim in their previous two matches. Of the sides below Augsburg in twelfth though, only FC Ingolstadt 04 have taken any points off them so far.
Their home form this season has been exemplary, and if they avoid defeat on Tuesday night they will complete the entire year unbeaten in front of the Yellow Wall for the first time since 1965 – conveniently excluding their DFL-Supercup defeat. Thomas Tuchel admitted he was “suddenly getting superstitious” with the landmark in sight, but added that “we will not achieve it by going on about it, but by once again holding firm and going to our limit in terms of performance.”
Augsburg surprisingly sacked Dirk Schuster last week after just 14 Bundesliga games in charge. Although they had only won three times, all against fellow strugglers, the defeat against Hamburger SV that cost the 48-year-old his job came after a run of three credible draws against sides in the top half – Hertha BSC, Köln and Eintracht Frankfurt.
Instead, the decision to let Schuster go seemed to be based more on the style of his team and the direction the club was going, and so it was that Baum took temporary charge. He made a positive start too, with a 1-0 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach on Saturday.
Just one win in 11 attempts for Augsburg
In just 11 previous meetings, all since Augsburg’s promotion to the Bundesliga in 2011, Dortmund have a much better record, with eight wins and two draws. However the only Augsburg victory, in February 2015, came at Signal Iduna Park. Raúl Bobadilla scored the only goal early in the second half.
Dortmund did however win all three meetings last season, including a DFB-Pokal last 16 clash. In the league game at Dortmund, Bobadilla again scored soon after half-time, but by then it was already 3-1, and Dortmund finished 5-1 winners, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring a hat-trick.
Later in the season, Aubameyang and the since-departed Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored in the Pokal win, incidentally played just before Christmas, and they recovered from an early Alfred Finnbogason goal to win 3-1 on their second trip to the WWK Arena in March.
Could Augsburg cause a shock?
All signs would suggest a win for Dortmund to send them into the winter break in positive fashion, but Tuchel is well-aware that Augsburg will make it difficult for them.
"We're expecting [Baum] to come up with a plan that neutralises our strengths,” he said, adding he believed that getting the first goal, something they have failed to do in their last six games, would be vital.
Baum confirmed exactly what Tuchel was thinking at his own press conference. “Every team has strengths and weaknesses. We want to exploit that in Dortmund,” he told the media. He believes that if the team “implement what we have been doing in training,” then there’s every chance they could take the three points back to Bavaria.
Martin Hinteregger, who scored against Gladbach at the weekend, went into a little more detail. “We have to keep BVB away from our goal as much as possible and especially to stop Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang,” he says, adding that “it will be a huge challenge."
Tuchel frustrated by injures and Reus suspension
The winter break can’t come soon enough for Dortmund. With seven first team players already out, there was another blow on Friday night with Ousmane Dembélé taken off with a bruised thigh, which makes him a doubt for this game. He would be a major loss given his star-turn in that match, but he is expected to make it.
Also missing is Marco Reus after his two yellow cards against Hoffenheim, although Tuchel is angry that the suspension couldn't be overturned, after replays showed Nadiem Amiri appear to foul Reus in the build-up to his second yellow.
“It's as if you were in the store and the security officers say you stole,” he explained metaphorically. “The video shows you didn't but you still spend a week a week in jail.”
For Augsburg, Philipp Max is a major doubt after picking up a muscle injury against Gladbach, and Konstantinos Stafylidis would be the obvious candidate to replace him at left-back. Dominik Kohr will be able to return to the midfield after suspension. Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker, Caiuby, Bobadilla and Finnbogason all remain out.
Borussia Dortmund: (4-2-3-1) Weidenfeller; Passlack, Ginter, Bartra, Schmelzer; Weigl; Pulisic, Götze, Demblélé, Schürrle; Aubameyang.
FC Augsburg: (4-2-3-1) Hitz; Verhaegh, Gouweleeuw, Hinteregger, Stafylidis; Baier, Kohr; Schmid, Koo, Usami; Ji.
Quotes via Borussia Dortmund, FC Augsburg and DW Sports.