Augsburg welcome Jürgen Klopp back to Germany as they host their first-ever European knockout stage match. Dortmund may not have all hands on deck in their contest, while Leverkusen and Schalke are also in action.
Ten years ago, Liverpool were defending European champions while Augsburg were still toiling in Germany's regional leagues, however this is the 2015-16 season and the two clubs are set to face each other in the last 32 of the Europa League. There will also be an added bonus for the small Bavarian club, when they take to the pitch for their first-ever knock-out stage game in European competition: the return to Germany of the country's biggest, recent footballing export: Jürgen Klopp.
"Liverpool is a cult," Augsburg coach Markus Weinzierl said. "It is sensational that we are playing against Liverpool, and with Klopp, there is even more explosiveness and this lifts Augsburg to an even higher stage."
"Now is the high point of the club's positive development," Weinzierl continued. "This is definitely a highlight in the club's history."
The opportunity to face one of the world's most famous clubs comes as a result of Augsburg's 3-1 win over Partizan in the final group-stage round, overcoming a goal-difference deficit to advance. They will be looking to conjure up similar magic in one of the biggest matches in the club's history. The main magician of that December night against Partizan was Raul Bobadilla, who scored six goals in the group stages to help Augsburg advance, but the Paraguayan forward has only managed four goals in domestic play this season.
With Daniel Baier, Hong Jeong-Ho and Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker all unavailable to him, Weinzierl will be forced to change his defensive approach, but his tactics will not be foreign to Klopp. Weinzierl was able to snatch a victory from Klopp's Borussia Dortmund a year ago, but that was the only time the Augsburg coach has ever beaten him. Prior to taking the Liverpool job, Klopp had spent all of his coaching career in Germany, so he should have a good idea of what Augsburg brings to the table. On the other hand, he also understands the occasion that the Bavarian club will be attempting to rise to.
"I know a lot about Augsburg and that makes the preparation easier but that is all," Klopp said. "In the end, they will fight for everything They have said it is the biggest game in their history. If it is the biggest game in their history you can imagine how ready they are for this game."
Dortmund's Gündogan questionable for Porto clash
Though Borussia Dortmund are back near the top of the Bundesliga, their league form has not translated well to the Europa League. That is partly due to Thomas Tuchel's practice of rotating his squad to rest key players. Tuchel may also have to do without one of his stars, Ilkay Gündogan, who is questionable due an illness that has been is running through the Dortmund camp.
Gündogan's absence could hurt Dortmund, as they take on a Porto team that made the Champions League quarterfinals a year ago. In Porto, Dortmund is facing a team that could be a candidate for the Europa League final, but this may be a good incentive for a club that are looking to get back to the Champions League.
"Perhaps it will be easier for us because we know that Porto are a title contender," said Dortmund left back Marcel Schmelzer.
Dortmund are coming into the match unbeaten in 2016, but their high-powered attackers have been inconsistent this year. Terrific displays against Gladbach and Stuttgart have helped, but in their last three matches - against Ingolstadt, Hertha Berlin and Hannover - BVB have only scored a total of three goals. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mikhitaryan have maintained their blistering form in the second half of the season, and they will need to continue to build on their breakout campaigns in order for Dortmund get this two-legged, last-32 tie off to the right start.
Tough tests for Leverkusen and Schalke
The knockout stages are where Leverkusen's path in European competition has come to an emphatic end in previous seasons. They are still showing inconsistency after a 3-1 loss to Werder Bremen in the German Cup, despite having won four of their last six Bundesliga matches. The man who has bolstered their attack this season is also expected to miss the first leg against Portuguese club Sporting. Javier Hernandez is still nursing a hamstring injury he suffered last week.
The Europa League is a competition that Schalke have not taken part in for a while, having reached the Champions League knockout stages each of the last three seasons. Andre Breitenreiter has used the extra competition to rotate his squad, allowing match experience to players like Franco di Santo and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. Breitenreiter may not be able to get away with squad rotation against Shakhtar Donetsk, even if the Ukrainian club has lost its best three attackers - Luiz Adriano, Douglas Costa and Alex Teixeira - in the last two transfer windows.
"Donetsk has a lot of other good players that we need to pay attention to," said attacking midfielder Younes Belhanda, who played several matches against Shakhtar while with Dynamo Kiev.