They may have beaten Real Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday night, but Borussia Dortmund travel to a Freiburg side who sit just one point behind them in the table this weekend. Jürgen Klopp’s reigning 1. Bundesliga champions currently trail league-leading Bavarian giants Bayern Munich by 12 points after just eight games, with inconsistent away form being Dortmund’s major problem.
However, last weekend’s home loss in the Revierderby against Schalke emphasised just what a difficult period Dortmund are currently enduring domestically, with Klopp’s decision to play a three-man defence in that game backfiring. The return to his usual 4-2-3-1 in the 2-1 victory over Real Madrid means that such an experiment is extremely unlikely to be risked again tomorrow.
Freiburg, meanwhile, are floating along nicely, although given the limited resources at coach Christian Streich’s disposal, he’ll be thinking the sooner his side can reach the 35-point mark, the better. After last weekend’s 2-0 win over woeful Wolfsburg, Freiburg only need another 24 points from the 26 matchdays left to play to achieve that target, and who would bet against them at this stage to earn a fifth successive season in 1. Bundesliga?
As for their opponents on Saturday afternoon, while it’s too early to write off a Dortmund fightback for the title – similar to the one that enabled them to claim a second successive championship at the end of last season – it’s fair to say Klopp’s side are not as imperious as they once were (not to mention the fact Bayern look as strong as ever domestically at this moment in time). Although the loss of Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United over the summer was a blow, the acquisition of Marco Reus has helped soothe the pain, even if he is a different type of player.
However, it has been in defence where Dortmund have struggled so far this campaign, with the same back-four and goalkeeper used to great effect in the last two seasons looking pedestrian and penetrable far too frequently (by their high standards, anyway). This has been the case away from home more so than at Signal Iduna Park, with Dortmund drawing 3-3 at Eintracht Frankfurt, and losing 3-2 at Hamburg – performances that were so poor, they had Klopp swearing like a docker.
Although he’s not looked as accomplished this season in defence as previous campaigns, Mats Hummels is still crucial to the way his side attack. Although stand-in Felipe Santana – who replaced Hummels a few weeks back during a short spell on the sidelines – is a good defender, the Brazilian doesn’t have the same vision or technique on the ball as Hummels, who starts most of Dortmund’s best moves by bringing or passing the ball out. Therefore, perhaps playing a three-man central defence against Schalke was Klopp looking to ensure that Hummels had a free role, and Dortmund had adequate cover at the back.
If having one of the best defenders in Europe in your side is a major plus, the continued absence of winger Jakub ‘Kuba’ Błaszczykowski through injury will be a blow for Freiburg’s guests just as much tomorrow afternoon as it was last time out versus fierce rivals Schalke, with the Polish international providing three assists so far this season (one less than right-back Łukasz Piszczek), as well as three goals (one less than the club’s top scorer in 1. Bundesliga, Reus).
Before last weekend, Klopp had never really deviated from his 4-2-3-1 system, even if the midfielders in the bank of two often differ from game to game (club stalwart Sebastian Kehl, though, is the one constant). In attack, Dortmund aren’t blessed with a huge amount of depth, but Croatian international Ivan Perišić is the epitome of super-sub. Thus, with Robert Lewandowski struggling to recapture the form he showed last season, Klopp – who saw Paraguayan hitman Lucas Barrios sold to China’s Guangzhou Evergrande in the summer – has no-one to bring in to make the highly-touted Pole buck up his ideas. Julian Schieber, purchased from Stuttgart over the summer, played up front in the recent 5-0 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach, but in my opinion, he doesn’t have the requisite quality to lead the line of a side challenging for glory both at home and abroad (compare Dortmund’s striking depth to Bayern’s, who have Claudio Pizarro, Mario Gómez and Mario Mandžukić all vying for the team’s one striking spot).
Streich, however, would probably love a player like Schieber in his squad. The 47-year-old, head coach of Freiburg for nearly a year now, came in as the club sold star striker Papiss Cissé to English side Newcastle United for €12million. Despite no big name or proven top-flight attacker coming in to replace the Senegalese star, the Mage Solar Stadion has become one of the hardest grounds in 1. Bundesliga to win a game at since Streich took charge (even if Werder Bremen did manage to win 2-1 there on September 26). Before then, however, the last game Freiburg lost at home was actually against this weekend’s opponents. Klopp’s high-fliers beat Freiburg – then coached by Marcus Sorg – 4-1 on December 17, 2011, with Lewandowski scoring twice and setting up another. Later that season, BVB beat Freiburg 4-0 at Signal Iduna Park, emphasising that Klopp seems to have the upper-hand over whoever is in charge of Freiburg.
Although Freiburg have neither found nor acquired a replacement for Cissé and his goals, the team’s strength under Streich is their tactical discipline, hard work and energy. There are no stars in Freiburg’s team, but plenty of players capable of chipping in with important goals (Cédric Makiadi and Sebastian Freis, to name but two), splicing opposition defences (Max Kruse – who also has three league goals to his name – and Johannes Flum, again, to name but two), and filling in holes all over the pitch with aplomb (Jonathan Schmid, and Daniel Caligiuri especially). Freiburg are capable of wearing defensive teams down, and those who park the proverbial bus are often caught out by the surprise burst into the box from any one of the aforementioned players.
The team’s relentlessness and energy is definitely aided by the fact Streich’s squad is quite young. The reliable Oliver Baumann, 22, is young in the goalkeeping world, while defenders Oliver Sorg, Diagné Fallou (both 22) and Immanuel Höhn (20) were only drafted into the first-team last season, but look mature and accomplished. One area to target Dortmund – likely to be tired after their midweek heroics – in as well as utilising disguised bursts into the box or crosses for Freis to get his head on could be getting at left-back Marcel Schmelzer. The 24-year-old, who scored the winner against Real Madrid, is not the strongest defensively, and like Piszczek, attacks frequently and thus leaves a lot of space in Dortmund’s half down the wings.
Kruse could be just the man to exploit BVB’s holes. The 24-year-old was the club’s marquee acquisition over the summer, and has since justified why Freiburg paid St Pauli €750,000 for his services with some crucial goals and talismanic displays. Freiburg’s other headline-grabbing recruits were YouTube star Ezequiel Calvente (on loan from Spanish side Real Betis), and Norwegian international right-back Vegar Eggen Hedenstad (the 21-year-old, supposedly sought after by a number of English Premier League clubs, was purchased from Norway’s Stabæk for €500,000). The club also brought in 21-year-old striker Marco Terrazzino from 3. Liga side Karlsruhe, and the youngster scored a fantastic goal on his début against Nuremberg three weeks back.
The two cities, Freiburg and Dortmund, are about five hours apart by car, meaning there is no real geographical or club-stature rivalry between the sides. In the 1994-95 1. Bundesliga season, though, Freiburg finished just three points behind eventual champions Dortmund. This was the best ever season in the history of the Badem-Württemberg club, for whom Germany national team coach Jogi Löw is the all-time top scorer with 81 goals in 252 games. Borussia Dortmund centre-midfielder Kehl played for Freiburg in the 2000/01 season, but he is the only player in either squad to have represented both clubs.
Apart from Błaszczykowski, the one player of note expected to be missing from the Dortmund team tomorrow is second-choice right-back Patrick Owomoyela. Freiburg, meanwhile, are also only likely to be without a player of significance in the form of attacker Jan Rosenthal, who is still recovering from an injury. The referee will be Marco Fritz, a 35-year-old who has been one of 1. Bundesliga’s more consistent referees over the last few seasons (and one who rarely shows his red card). He took charge of both of Dortmund’s games against Hertha BSC last season, as well as Freiburg’s home ties against Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke (one lost, one won).
Freiburg against Borussia Dortmund kicks off at 2.30pm UK time, and can be watched, live, on Bet365.com.