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Preview: Bayern Munich take on a troubled Dortmund

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BVB are searching for their lost form, and now here comes Bayern.

Der Klassiker is upon us: the first match-up of the season between Bayern Munich and perennial rival Borussia Dortmund. A month ago, just after Carlo Ancelotti was fired, Bayern trailed first-place Dortmund in the Bundesliga table by 5 points. Since then, now first-place Bayern have won five games in a row and lead a stagnating Dortmund by 3 points. This Saturday Bayern will attempt to expand that lead to 6 points.

Fit and strong

Jupp Heynckes can call on a bevy of rested players who sat out most of Bayern’s 2-1 Champions League victory over Celtic FC: Joshua Kimmich, Thiago Alcantara, and Sebastian Rudy sat out most of the game. Mats Hummels did not play at all. Robert Lewandowski, who remained in Munich to nurse a minor thigh issue, is ready to play.

There was some speculation surrounding Jerome Boateng and Kingsley Coman, who took minor knocks in Glasgow, but they also have been cleared to play. Heynckes thus has virtually his entire squad at his disposal, with the exception of Manuel Neuer, Franck Ribery, Thomas Müller, and Juan Bernat - and the latter two are very close to returning.

Heynckes likely will attempt to utilize a combination of deadly speed and tactical acumen to dismantle Dortmund’s troubled defense. Kingsley Coman could use his pace to terrorize Dortmund’s vulnerable right flank, while Robben works opposite him. A well-rested Thiago can orchestrate the offense as a somewhat left-leaning CAM. Watch for him and his partners in Bayern’s midfield to look for holes in Dortmund’s notorious high defensive line.

Assuming Javi Martinez is a lock to start as Heynckes’s “breakwater” ahead of the center-backs, the biggest question is who will be his partner. Given the dangerous speed of Dortmund’s offense, the best solution may be the always poised Sebastian Rudy, who combines calmness on the ball with clean distribution and nimble defense. Arturo Vidal or even Corentin Tolisso may also be options, but I would expect Heynckes to err on the side of caution.

Dortmund in search of a win

Dortmund is in trouble. After a scintillating start, they have won just one of their past five matches - a 5:0 shellacking of FC Magdeburg in the DFB Pokal. The other games? Losses to RB Leipzig and Hannover 96, a draw with Eintracht Frankfurt, and two humiliating draws against Champions League lightweight APOEL Nicosia, bringing Dortmund’s Champions League aspirations to a premature end.

“Crisis,” captain Marcel Schmelzer said after the latest draw against APOEL. He corrected himself: “we’re in a difficult situation.” As Dortmund crashes out of Europe and loses ground in the Bundesliga, pressure is mounting on head coach Peter Bosz and questions are being asked about his tactics. Injuries have made his task no simpler.

With no healthy right-backs (Erik Durm and Lukas Piszczek are both recovering from long-term injuries), Bosz has lately moved Marc Bartra from central defense to the right. His place in central defense has been filled variously (even Julian Weigl surprisingly lined up as a center-back against Frankfurt), but since Dan-Axel Zagadou is suspended for a red card, it seems likely that former Leverkusen man Ömer Toprak will start. The only alternative is Neven Subotic.

Julian Weigl will presumably hold down the defensive midfield, while Mario Götze - at last finding his form after a nightmare season lost to a metabolic disorder - and probably Gonzalo Castro fill out the midfield. Nuri Sahin and Mahmoud Dahoud are also strong contenders for a starting role.

On offense, Aubameyang will be supported by Maximilian Philipp on the left and probably Andrey Yarmolenko on the right - with Christian Pulisic ready to come on as needed.

Bosz could shake things up against Bayern by opting for a defensive 3-4-3 instead of his usual 4-3-3. He has changed formations mid-game several times to stabilize Dortmund's defense. Bosz generally relies on possession and high pressing, but Dortmund's high defensive line has also been exposed in a way reminiscent of Pep Guardiola's Bayern. Whatever lineup and formation Bosz ultimately chooses, Dortmund has the quality to make life difficult for their Bavarian rivals.

Update: Kimmich is out