Sports

Dortmund, Leipzig Battle For Bayern’s crown

With Bayern Munich wobbling, the clash between Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig on Friday, the two sides most likely to snatch the Bavarians’ crown, comes at a pivotal time.

Despite Union Berlin’s stunning run, as well as brave challenges from Eintracht Frankfurt and Freiburg this season, Dortmund and RB Leipzig remain the two sides with the best chance of stopping Bayern’s quest for an 11th straight title.

In the six seasons since Leipzig’s promotion for the 2016-17 season, the two have regularly wrestled for the runners-up spot, with Dortmund finishing second three times, Leipzig twice and Schalke once, in 2017-18.

While Dortmund’s season appeared to be a write-off after consecutive losses left them nine points off Bayern before the winter break, a run of seven consecutive league victories — plus wins in the Champions League and German Cup — have revived their season.

Bayern’s struggles in 2023, with just three wins from seven league matches, means Dortmund have closed the gap and sit alongside the Bavarians atop the table.

Dortmund and Union’s form — and Bayern’s struggles — have allowed Leipzig to quietly plot their title challenge out of the spotlight.

Leipzig have 37 points in 17 games since former Dortmund manager Marco Rose took over in early September, more than any other Bundesliga team.

Rose’s Leipzig tenure was kick-started by a dominant 3-0 home win over his former side, Dortmund’s biggest loss in all competitions this season.

RB now sit in fourth place, four points behind Bayern and Dortmund, with 12 matches remaining this season.

Leipzig have won their last three meetings with Dortmund, including a 4-1 away thrashing in 2021-22.

Prior to that, Dortmund had gone unbeaten in eight against Leipzig, a run of six victories including the 2020-21 German Cup final, by the same 4-1 scoreline.

Leipzig midfielder Benjamin Henrichs told Sky on Wednesday “you start playing football for games like this,” warning Dortmund “we want to play as well as we did last year”.

Dortmund manager Edin Terzic, who was made coach when Rose was sacked last summer, said on Saturday his side would not get carried away in their pursuit of a record-equalling eighth consecutive league victory.

“We don’t want to rest on our laurels,” he said. “Neither I nor the team get paid for dreaming, only for hard and diligent work.”

Both sides will be close to full strength for the encounter.

Despite the long-term absence of Spain midfielder Dani Olmo, Leipzig can count on top scorer Christopher Nkunku on Friday, along with Josko Gvardiol and Emil Forsberg, who sat out a training session this week.

Dortmund are missing Karim Adeyemi but will be boosted by the return of wing-back Julian Ryerson, who missed the win over Hoffenheim with an eye complaint.

– One to watch: Julian Brandt (Borussia Dortmund) –
Borussia Dortmund’s stellar run of form has coincided with a purple patch from attacking midfielder Julian Brandt, who has scored or assisted in seven of his last eight league games.

Despite competition from Dortmund’s array of attacking talent, Brandt has established himself as one of the first names picked in the starting XI in recent weeks.

Brandt’s stellar form saw him pick up the Bundesliga Player of the Month award in February.

Brandt’s form is also breeding an element of good luck — he scored the winner against Hoffenheim on Saturday with the middle of his back.

– Key stats –
5 – Borussia Dortmund have won 1-0 five times in the league this season, a club record, with 12 games still to play.

23 November, 2019 – The date of Schalke’s last Bundesliga away victory, a 2-1 win at Bremen. Rock-bottom Schalke, unbeaten in five, travel to Bochum on Saturday.

5/6 – Bochum, three points ahead of Schalke, have lost just one of six home league matches under manager Thomas Letsch.

Fixtures (all times 1430 GMT unless otherwise stated)

Friday

Borussia Dortmund v RB Leipzig (1930)

Saturday

Union Berlin v Cologne, Borussia Moenchengladbach v Freiburg, Augsburg v Werder Bremen, Mainz v Hoffenheim, Bochum v Schalke, Stuttgart v Bayern Munich (1730)

Sunday

Bayer Leverkusen v Hertha Berlin, Wolfsburg v Eintracht Frankfurt (1630)

AFP

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