Borussia Dortmund-Wolfsburg preview

The 2009 Bundesliga champions travel to the title-holders tomorrow afternoon, with both sides in the midst of unsatisfactory starts to the 2011/12 campaign. This match is key for both Borussia Dortmund and Wolfsburg, with the former fully aware that they would – temporarily – move one point behind divisional-leaders Bayern Munich if they win at the Westfalenstadion, and the latter knowing that a defeat could see them go into the upcoming international break one point and two places above the drop-zone.  And, Wolfsburg coach Felix Magath used his pre-match press conference to confirm the challenge his side face tomorrow afternoon: “Dortmund are the reigning German champions and still a great team,” he said. “They impress with their determined attacking game, but also the way every individual works to get back. That was their greatest strength last year, and it hasn’t changed.”

Dortmund come into this game in high spirits following a 1-1 draw against a resilient Stuttgart side last weekend, and their first win in this season’s Champions League on Tuesday (1-0 at home to Olympiakos). BVB have conceded just one goal in German cup and league games since September 25, and are unbeaten in the Bundesliga since collapsing in the closing stages at Hannover on September 18 – one of three league defeats they’ve suffered this campaign. By October 19, Dortmund had racked up their sixth loss in all competitions – in comparison, they lost just seven games in all competitions last season.

Part of the reason for this drop-off in standards is because players such as Shinji Kagawa, Lucas Barrios, Mats Hummels, Neven Subotić and Kevin Groβkreutz have struggled to match the high performance-level they set last season due to fitness issues, injury or loss of form. Nevertheless, others such as Moritz Leitner, Robert Lewandowski and Łukasz Piszczek have stepped up to the plate to paper over some of the cracks, ensuring that BVB come into tomorrow’s in third place. Creativity and stability issues remain in the centre-midfield, however – İlkay Gündoğan has struggled to fill Nuri Şahin’s boots, and no side with Sebastian Kehl in the midfield is going to be bothering the likes of Barcelona or Bayern Munich.

Wolfsburg lost 2-0 in Dortmund last season, Şahin and Kagawa securing a routine win on September 11, 2010 to heap more misery on then Wolves coach Steve McClaren. The Englishman is long gone now, though, as are some of the players who featured that night such as Edin Džeko, Diego and Simon Kjær. It was hoped that the Brazilian and the Dane would fill the play-making and centre-back holes at the club last season, but neither player successfully achieved this. And, the problems in these positions persist, with Alexander Hleb putting in a poor performance during last weekend’s 3-2 loss at home to Hertha Berlin and Thomas Hitzlsperger getting injured for the umpteenth time in his career, and inexperienced young centre-back Bjarne Thölke and his partner, the slow ex-Liverpool defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos, going out of their way to make life easy for Pierre-Michel Lasogga & co.

Magath’s team, who have the luxury of no midweek fixtures in cup competitions due to not qualifying for Europe and exiting the DFB-Pokal at the first-round stage back in July, have been extremely poor on the road this season. As is his way, expect the former Schalke coach to tinker with his line-up tomorrow: although, with Srđan Lakić ruled out through illness, Magath has no reason not to start the in-form – if we exclude his showing against Hertha, and his supposed fitness issues in the week leading up to tomorrow’s tie – Mario Mandžukić as the line-leader for the second game in succession. But, whether Magath opts to go with a 4-2-3-1 again given the havoc the likes of Mario Götze might wreak if the 58-year-old doesn’t pack his midfield with wave-breakers remains to be seen.

Who the 18-year-old starts alongside in Dortmund’s attacking-midfield bank of three also remains to be seen, with BVB coach Jürgen Klopp hinting that he might start both Lewandowski and Barrios – a move that would see the Polish international most likely playing in a line with Götze and Groβkreutz behind the Paraguayan. However, against Olympiakos in the week, Klopp, whose side have only lost one of their last 21 home games, actually played a more defensive 4-3-3 system, with Götze in the bank of three stationed nearer to the defence. The 44-year-old Stuttgart-born coach is unlikely to persist with that formation tomorrow, though, because as he noted in the build-up to the game:  “Most of the teams who come here make defending their priority.”

Klopp will have to make do without the injured duo of Patrick Owomoyela and Damien Le Tallec for the visit of Wolfsburg, yet his key players are all now back to nigh-on full fitness. One personnel problem that Klopp might face, though, is how much he gets going forward out of Piszczek. The Pole is up against Wolfsburg’s most productive assist-maker in left-back Marcel Schäfer, meaning that he might have to restrict his impressive attacking instincts for a change. The referee for tomorrow’s fixture is the card-happy 41-year-old Jochen Drees, whose controversial performance during last month’s Cologne vs Hannover tie suggests that if the 22 players on the pitch fail to entertain, the man in black just might save the spectacle.

Borussia Dortmund vs Wolfsburg kicks off at 2.30pm in the UK, and can be watched, live, on Bet365.com.

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