Bundesliga: Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke — the key battles | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 25.04.2019
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Bundesliga: Borussia Dortmund vs. Schalke — the key battles

Even during a shocking season for Schalke, Saturday's Revierderby remains a real threat to Dortmund's title challenge. Which battles will decide the day and how might Schalke thwart their rivals?

On recent form, Schalke would struggle to beat a team of sedated sloths. Nevertheless, derbies have their own rules and few in Europe are laden with as much history or tension.

While Saturday's game in Dortmund is liable to terrify Schalke's Huub Stevens, surely Lucien Favre would also prefer Bayern Munich's weekend visit to Nuremberg, rather than facing the Royal Blues at home.

Torpedoing Dortmund's title hopes is one of the few consolations still available to Schalke's supporters in a miserable season. Here are some of the key battles that might influence the outcome:

Marco Reus vs. Schalke's entire defense

Assigning one defender to Dortmund's roaming number 11 is a fool's errand. Last time out against Freiburg, Reus bagged two assists with low crosses from the left flank while also popping up in the center to score one of his own. BVB's entire attack is versatile and willing to rotate, especially when Mario Götze's playing as a false 9, but Reus is the most difficult of the bunch to nail down.

If Stevens were to put a player on Reus full time, perhaps Matija Nastasic or a midfielder like Omar Mascarell, it could severely disrupt Schalke's shape and would consign the unlucky defender to an exhausting afternoon. The chances of them lasting the 90 would seem slim, let alone with their pride intact.

BVB's Marco Reus dribbles the ball away from Schalke's Sebastian Rudy, 08.12.2018. (Getty Images/Bongarts/M. Rose)

Reus has license to roam in Dortmund's fluid attack; he's liable to cause headaches for more than one Schalke defender

Axel Witsel vs. Weston McKennie

Without at least some control of the ball, it could become a long afternoon for the visitors. Established stars like Sebastian Rudy and Nabil Bentaleb have fallen firmly out of favor — Bentaleb's rejoined the senior squad after weeks in exile but hasn't started a game since early March, Rudy is recovering from injury — so young US international Weston McKennie may be asked to carry the can.

Witsel has become an important cog in the Dortmund machine this season, linking attack and defense with a quality that the more robust Thomas Delaney does not offer in holding midfield. Dealing with the Belgian at both ends of the park will be necessary if Schalke want to grab a point or three.

Schalke goalie Ralf Fährmann consoles Weston McKennie after defeat to Werder Bremen, 08.03.2019.

It's been a tough season for all at Schalke, but McKennie has grown into a more prominent midfield role amid the misery

Jadon Sancho vs. Bastian Oczipka (or Jonas Carls?)

Presumably, given Schalke's 5-2 defeat to Hoffenheim on Jonas Carls' professional debut, Bastian Oczipka will be returning on the left side of the Royal Blues' defense.

Whoever gets the nod, they have the unenviable task of containing arguably the trickiest teenager in the Bundesliga, who scored the winner in Gelsenkirchen in December. Sancho's mouth is probably watering at the prospect of either opponent.

Jadon Sancho celebrates scoring in Borussia Dortmund's 2-1 win against Schalke, 08.12.2018. (picture-alliance/dpa/I. Fassbender)

Schalke supporters need no reminders about the threat this young man can pose

Guido Burgstaller vs. Manuel Akanji

Dortmund's defense is probably the team's weak spot. Bayern Munich dismantled it less than a month ago, and Roman Bürki has had some iffy outings in goal of late; Freiburg and Hertha Berlin stick in the mind even though Dortmund prevailed in both fixtures.

Lucien Favre's side has only failed to score in three league games all season, so Schalke will probably need goals of their own. Akanji may well be the strongest link in Dortmund's defensive chain these days, meaning one of Stevens' strikers will need to get the better of him.

Burgstaller, who missed much of the season with injury, broke an almost five-month drought last weekend with a consolation goal against Hoffenheim. Adding to that in the derby would be rather more meaningful to him and the Schalke faithful.

Schalke goalkeeper Alexander Nübel makes a diving save against Wolfsburg, 20.01.2019. (picture-alliance/dpa/B. Thissen)

Schalke keeper Alexander Nübel has had plenty to do in recent weeks, Saturday may prove no exception

Alexander Nübel vs. Dortmund's attack

Former German international Dietmar Hamann raised eyebrows this week by saying that Schalke's young goalkeeper could learn more during a year as understudy to Manuel Neuer at Bayern Munich than he could as Schalke's first choice between the posts.

If any game's likely to test this theory, surely it's Saturday's. Nübel can expect a busy afternoon in a hostile environment.

That said, the Dortmund derby does have the potential to severely dent the 22-year-old's confidence if things don't go well. Perhaps there was some wisdom in Hamann's much-maligned advice? 

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