There will be key battles being fought all across the Bundesliga on this upcoming Matchday 24.
The Friday night game is the ‘Kellerduell’ between the league’s two lowest placed sides Schalke 04 and Mainz 05. Saturday afternoon lays host to a number of eye-catching contests, with Borussia Mӧnchengladach welcoming fellow underperformers Bayer Leverkusen whilst SC Freiburg will be looking to a put a halt to RB Leipzig’s title charge. The Topspiel is no other than Der Klassiker between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
Here's a look at three things to watch out for.
Dortmund to try and put an end to their dreadful record at the Allianz
Der Klassiker, which pits Dortmund and Bayern against each other, is known as the top fixture in German football. However, as of late - especially when it's been played in Bavaria - the match has been a rather one sided affair. In the last three trips to the Allianz Arena, the aggregate score has been a remarkable 15-0 in favour of the Rekordmeister. In fact, you have to go back seven years to find the last time Dortmund won a league match away in Der Klassiker. With Bayern unsurprisingly leading the league and Dortmund, to some surprise, lagging 13 points behind in 5th, their fortunes may have little chance of changing on Saturday night.
However, Edin Terzic will find encouragement in his side's recent upswing in results, led most notably by Jadon Sancho rediscovering his world-class form once again. Having experienced a fairly torrid period immediately after the New Year, Die Schwarzgelben have now won four in a row in all competitions and have been scoring at a much higher rate than they had previously done. In his Thursday afternoon press conference, Terzic said, “We have shown in our games against Bayern this year [3-2 loss in the DFL-Supercup and another loss by the same scoreline in the reverse fixture] that we are closing the gap, and that we can compete much more than in the past”.
The Bosnian may have reason to be optimistic, especially given Bayern’s wobbles this season. Hansi Flick’s side have proven to be far more unpredictable and inconsistent than they did in last season’s near perfect campaign in which they won every trophy available to them. In 23 matches so far, Manuel Neuer and his defence have managed only five clean sheets, so it’s difficult to think that the lethal combination of Sancho and Golden Boy winner Erling Haaland won’t have at least some joy. Dortmund’s defence, plagued with injury, has been equally as unconvincing this season, so expect this game to come down to which defensive unit can stay strongest.
Gladbach to end their poor run at the expense at another team desperate for a win
It can no longer be denied that the news of Marco Rose’s departure in the summer for Dortmund has, at very least, compounded the existing problems at the Borussia-Park. Since the news broke, Die Fohlen have lost all four of their matches in all competitions, including an embarrassing defeat at home to lowly Mainz. Before that, they had looked to have recovered from their poor start to the season, being undefeated in seven across January and February. They now find themselves all the way down in 9th, with their European hopes fading away and with calls for Rose’s early departure beginning to emerge.
Luckily for them, they come up against a Bayer Leverkusen side who are also punching below their weight at the moment. Die Werkself have been dumped out of both the DFB-Pokal and the Europa League by lesser opposition recently, and have won only one of their past six. To make things worse, they have been hit with a serious injury crisis: new arrival Timothy Fosu-Mensah (cruciate ligament) and goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky (achilles injury) are the latest names on the treatment taable. Tenacious winger Leon Bailey misses the match through suspension and wonderboy Florian Wirtz has received a positive COVID-19 test, so he will also be unavailablefor selection .
To avoid further embarrassment and dropping even further down the table, Gladbach are desperate for a win. They have looked far less assured recently, and they have suffered disheartening results against stronger opposition, most so in the matches against Manchester City and Leipzig. However, this is a game they will feel they can use to kick start their season once more and put the future of Marco Rose behind them.
Schalke’s season to come down to one game
It is quite simple: should Schalke fail to beat Mainz on Friday night, it will be almost impossible for them to save this campaign, and they will be resigned to their fate in the 2. Bundesliga for next season. Having completely ousted almost all of their coaching and technical staff after the comical 5-1 loss to Stuttgart on Sunday, Die Königsblauen will be looking for some sort of response in this game if they are to pull off the greatest of escapes.
Schalke’s fifth head coach of the season Dimitrios Grammozis remains confident of his new side’s ability. Following his first training session, he told the media that he was “very surprised, it seems like the boys have taken the initiative since the change in coach, it’s all been very positive so far”. He may be seeing a different side of Schalke, one of which we have not seen this season.
Despite losing last weekend against FC Augsburg, Mainz come into this game as strong favourites despite being only one spot ahead of their opponents in the standings. Much improved under Bo Svensson, they will see this as an opportunity to finally climb out of the drop zone and leapfrog Arminia Bielfeld and Hertha Berlin.
Schalke are one of Germany's biggest clubs in terms of tradition, history, and number of members; so a loss on Friday would represent one of the darkest days in their 117 year history.