Football rivalries in Germany don’t get any bigger than the Ruhr derby, but there is more than just bragging rights at stake for title chasers Borussia Dortmund.
Prior to the coronavirus lockdown, BVB recorded four consecutive wins for the first time this term to maintain the pressure on leaders Bayern and their fearsome frontline will be keen to make a statement on their belated return against neighbours Schalke.
Lucien Favre’s men, four points behind Bayern in second, have yet to taste defeat in 12 home league games this term but with the Signal Iduna Park showdown taking place behind closed doors, it is a less daunting trip for Schalke than would often be the case.
The visitors have lost only one of the last eight Ruhr derbies and October’s goalless draw at the Veltins Arena shows that they have the defensive qualities to frustrate bitter rivals Dortmund.
While the two-month layoff may have come at a bad time for Dortmund, it could have a positive impact on sixth-placed Schalke who are without victory in seven games.
The Bundesliga’s draw specialists, who have shared the spoils in ten of their 25 league encounters, struggled to emulate their early-season performances but the anticipated return of key central defenders Salif Sane and Benjamin Stambouli could trigger an upturn in form.
Schalke have lost only four of their 12 away league games this season – an impressive 3-1 win at Leipzig in September is the pick of their efforts – and David Wagner is likely to set up his side to nullify the threat of Dortmund’s dynamic duo Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho.
Wagner’s side have shared the spoils in three of their last five away games and keeping this clash tight and low-scoring is their best chance of picking up a positive result.
Dortmund boast one of Europe’s most feared attacks with Haaland and Sancho assisted by Thorgan Hazard but it may be unruly to assume they will hit the ground running.
BVB have fired home 68 goals in 25 league games – an average of 2.72 – but these are unusual circumstances and it’s not easy to predict how either side will respond to the lack of atmosphere.
In fact, both teams have scored in only two of Dortmund’s last six league games, while the net has bulged at both ends in just two of Schalke’s last eight.
The Miners are the lowest scorers in the Bundesliga’s top-half with just 33 goals in 25 games and attempting to go toe-to-toe with an explosive Dortmund would prove fatal.
Wagner has been successful in his ploy to make Schalke a difficult side to beat, they have recorded six draws in their last ten league outings, and extending that sequence at Signal Iduna Park is well within their capabilities.
Captain Marco Reus, who has netted 11 league goals this term and grabbed five assists, Emre Can and Axel Witxel are likely absentees for Dortmund which does take away some of their midfield quality.
Two of Schalke’s last five away matches have finished goalless and at large odds it could be worth banking on another low-scoring match, just like the reverse fixture which finished 0-0.