Schalke 04 plot to become the first Bundesliga side to beat Borussia Dortmund this season and extend the German league leaders’ recent misery in Gelsenkirchen in Saturday’s Ruhr derby.
This is the first time in six years Dortmund go into the derby top of the table, but they last won at the Veltins Arena half a decade ago.
A gulf of 19 points and 12 places in the table separates the clubs, who are only 33kms (20miles) apart, but Schalke are itching to get one over their high-flying neighbours and bitter rivals.
“Since Monday, the pulse of the derby beats in the region. Everyone is talking about it,” Manuel Neukirchner, director of the German Football museum in Dortmund, told AFP.
“Here, you can’t be neutral.
“It reminds me a bit of the Beatles and Rolling Stones in the 1960s – you have to support one or the other.” Dortmund have not won any of the last five derbies and Schalke ran out 2-0 winners in Gelsenkirchen last April.
The Royal Blues will be holding an open training session for home fans on Friday to fire the city up for one of European football’s most passionate derbies.
“In derby games, there is no outsider and no favourites,” said Schalke coach Domenico Tedesco.
“We will do everything to come out of the derby with a positive result.” Tedesco sees his team’s pressing as their biggest weapon, plus the improving form of midfielders Sebastian Rudy and Nabil Bentaleb, whose penalty rescued a point in last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Hoffenheim.
However, the Royal Blues have huge injury problems up front with forwards Mark Uth, Franco di Santo and Breel Embolo sidelined, while Guido Burgstaller and Steven Skrzybski are struggling to be fit in time.
Stunning draw haunts Dortmund
In contrast, Dortmund’s attack is on fire.
Goal-machine Paco Alcacer, the league’s joint top-scorer with ten goals, has scored nine times off the bench and hit the net in each of his last three games.
England winger Jadon Sancho may be unavailable due to a family bereavement but captain Marco Reus has scored four goals and set up another in his last four games, including a brace in the 3-2 win at home to Bayern Munich.
“I think he’s the bolt which holds Dortmund together — when he plays well, so does the team — he’s an important player,” said Tedesco.
Historically, little separates the team with Schalke having won 39 and Dortmund 38 of the 114 derbies with 37 draws.
Dortmund are still smarting from the incredible 4-4 home draw in November 2017 when Schalke clawed back four second-half goals with Brazil defender Naldo heading in the 94th-minute equaliser at Signal Idua Park.
“Until recently, it was always the successful derby moments that I remembered, but that crazy game is still very present for us,” admitted director of sport Michael Zorc, 56, who was born in Dortmund.
“I’ve 50 years experience of the derby – it’s what people talk about in this city, whether you are at the bakers or the petrol station.” Dortmund coach Lucien Favre has lost six times and won just once at Schalke in his career – his solitary away victory coming with ex-club Borussia Moenchengladbach in April 2014.
Meanwhile defending champions Bayern will hope Dortmund stumble in Schalke to help them close the nine-point gap when they host strugglers Nuremberg at the Allianz Arena.
Bayern are up to fourth in the table after securing a 2-1 win at Werder Bremen last weekend, when winger Serge Gnabry scored both goals, to end a poor run of three defeats in their previous seven games.
It’s been ten years since Nuremberg last beat Bayern and 26 since ‘der Klub’, as they are nicknamed, last won in Munich.
Bayern coach Niko Kovac is waiting to find out about Arjen Robben’s availability, who missed training in midweek with a thigh injury. (PTI)