Borussia Dortmund vs Wolfsburg
Dortmund play hosts to second-placed Wolfsburg at the Signal-Iduna-Park on Wednesday night in a fixture that last season would have been a top-of-the-table clash, but which this year is top against bottom as Dortmund try to rebuild after a horrendous start to their domestic season.
After finishing comfortably second to runaway champions, Bayern Munich, last season, you could not have got a price on Dortmund being relegated from the Bundesliga this term, but sitting in the bottom three after fifteen games and just one point above bottom-placed Stuttgart, that remains an uncomfortably real possibility for Jurgen Klopp and his star-studded squad. Beginning December with a much needed league win by a single goal over Hoffenheim and then following it up by securing top spot in their Champions League group with a 1-1 draw with Anderlecht, Klopp might have been forgiven for thinking his side’s season had finally bottomed out. Sadly, in Berlin on Saturday, he had to watch his players under-perform and under-achieve once again, going down to a single goal to Hertha in yet another lack-lustre display. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang remains his top league scorer with a paltry four goals, and with a player like the much-heralded Ciro Immobile alongside him, that is a totally unsatisfactory statistic. A successful Champions league run will have a hollow feel if it remains accompanied by a relegation battle, and even that is in serious doubt after they were matched against Juventus in Monday’s draw. Klopp’s spirits will not be improved by the news that he will be without playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who is out until the new year with a thigh injury, and Sokratis Papastathopoulos as he continues his recovery from a fractured leg.
Wolfsburg missed out on Champions league qualification by one point and one place last season, and coach Dieter Hecking and his players seem seriously focused on qualifying to join the European elite this time around. After slipping up at home and away in their Europa league group games, they qualified with ease in second spot after an accomplished 3-0 win in Lille last Thursday. Domestically they have gone from strength to strength, and their 3-2 loss at Schalke a month ago remains their only league defeat since a stuttering start that saw them pick up only five points from their opening five games. Since then, eight wins and a draw in ten games has seen Wolfsburg surge into second spot, albeit nine points adrift of champions elect, Bayern Munich, but six points clear of a tightly-packed chasing group. Hecking will be hoping that Sunday’s disappointing 1-1 draw with Paderborn is just a minor blip in their excellent run of form. Based on a solid defensive platform that has conceded less than a goal a game, Wolfsburg strength is a team ethic that has seen no prolific goalscorer, but goals coming from all quarters of the pitch, with eight goals from defenders and a further thirteen from midfield.