Second-placed Borussia Dortmund host leaders Bayern Munich today in a Bundesliga top-of-the-table showdown with injuries having decimated the hosts’ defense.
The rematch of last season’s UEFA Champions League final between the Bundesliga’s top sides — billed as Germany’s Der Klassiker — comes with Pep Guardiola’s Bayern four points clear and Dortmund’s defense in disarray.
Centerback Mats Hummels and leftback Marcel Schmelzer have been ruled out after returning from international duty with injuries. With centerback Neven Subotic out for six months with torn ligaments and rightback Lukasz Piszczek only just back in training after surgery, Dortmund will face the European champions without their entire first-choice back four.
“It is a disaster,” Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke said.
“The worst thing that can happen to you in football is to have to replace the entire back four,” he said. “A defender, a midfielder or a striker can be replaced by every team, but a whole back four?”
Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp summed up the situation when he said that “80 percent of my gray hairs were earned this week,” but he has reacted by signing former Germany international defender Manuel Friedrich, who had been released by Bayer 04 Leverkusen, until the end of the campaign.
The 34-year-old is likely to partner Greece international Sokratis Papastathopoulos at centerback, while youngster Erik Durm is expected to play at leftback and Kevin Grosskreutz on the right.
“We have had to put together a defense which has not yet played 20 games together, but we still have a lot of quality in the squad,” Klopp said.
Sporting director Michael Zorc defiantly said Dortmund “won’t raise the white flag to anyone.”
Even with Bayern winger Franck Ribery ruled out with a fractured rib, the pressure is firmly on Dortmund.
Their defeat away to VfL Wolfsburg two weeks ago left them four points adrift and if they are serious about bringing the Bundesliga trophy back to the Ruhr Valley, it is a match they must win.
The difference between the two squads is strength in depth, with Guardiola able to call on Germany’s Mario Goetze or Switzerland’s Xherdan Shaqiri to fill in for Ribery.
“It’s just like it so often is with us: we have a good enough squad and will certainly have a decent team on the pitch, whose goal will be to win there,” Bayern’s Thomas Mueller said.
Goetze, who is returning to Dortmund having left to join Bayern in the summer, will be making his first appearance at Signal Iduna Park in the red shirt.
The 21-year-old has said he has “no fear” and understands the passionate home supporters would rather see him playing for Borussia, but former Dortmund and Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann has advised him “not to take throw-ins or corners” and to stay away from the fans.
February 2010 was the last time Bayern beat Dortmund in the Bundesliga, but the Bavarians were victorious when it mattered most, beating the Black and Yellows in May’s UEFA Champions League final.
Much has been made of Bayern’s failure to beat Borussia in their previous six Bundesliga showdowns, but having gone 37 league matches and more than a year without defeat, Munich will be confident of extending their unbeaten Bundesliga run.
Certainly, Bayern want to again exert their authority over their rivals, who won back-to-back league titles in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, before Bayern swept the treble of Champions League, Bundesliga and DFB Pokal last season.
Among the weekend’s other matches, struggling Hamburg SV host mid-table Hannover 96 without captain Rafael van der Vaart, who tore ankle ligaments while on duty with the Netherlands and is expected to be out for the next four weeks.