Today’s game against Hoffenheim is practically a cup final. Win or draw and BVB will seal a place in next season’s Champions League. Lose and not only will our opponents leapfrog us but we also leave ourselves at the mercy of Leverkusen’s result against Hannover at the BayArena. With so many possible permutations to this game it will be hard for these players to keep focus on the task ahead. Everybody connected with Borussia Dortmund is sure of one thing though, which is anything less than a seat at Europe’s top table with encapsulate what many are seeing as a miserable season already.
A final home loss of the season against Mainz last week added to the negative mood of most Dortmund fans. The connotations of a win at Signal Iduna Park would have seen us secure our place in the top four rendering the influence of the result here on that aim irrelevant. Mainz needed a result themselves to ensure they would be playing Bundesliga football next season. Goals from Bote Baku and Yoshinori Muto gave them exactly what they came for. Max Phillipp’s consolation did nothing to lighten the collective mood of all in yellow and black. Mainz may have been safe, and good luck to them for it, but we now have to get a result in Sinsheim to recover anything from this dismal season.
The omens are slightly in our favour though we come up against a formidable foe today. Hoffenheim are winless in nine Bundesliga games against us and we our unbeaten in our last five visits to the Rhein-Neckar-Arena, but they have also only lost one of their last ten. Julian Nagelsmann has managed to salvage a top four finish for his side where they previously looked miles away from accomplishing that aim. The goals of Mark Uth and Andrej Kramaric in particular have been central to their improvement over the final stretch of this season. Their contributions to this game today will be key if Hoffenheim are to overhaul us into third place.
Nagelsmann has been able to put his achievements this season into perspective though considering how close to the wrong end of the table his side were not too long ago. “A few weeks ago I was happy that we were four or five points away from the relegation places. Now we’re playing for the Champions League and have the chance to achieve something special.” He went on to say, “I’m proud of what we’ve managed to achieve this season. If we could qualify for the Champions League group stage – that would be historic. We’re going to give everything to try and make that happen. The players are all extremely motivated. If that wasn’t the case, then something would be very wrong.”
Similar to ourselves Hoffenheim have faced injury troubles this season, which hamper them once more going into this game. “The troubles that Dortmund are having are similar to ours really. We’ve had to fight through a lot of injury issues. The same players that have been out recently [Posch, Rupp, Gnabry, Geiger, Demirbay, Hubner] are almost certainly not going to be available on Saturday either,” said Nagelsmann. Havard Nordtveit now looks to have been added to the missing list thanks to a slight thigh strain picked up through the week in training.
Equally as positive to his opponent, Peter Stoeger denounced negativity in his press conference on Friday. He pointed out how strong a position his side was in and how Hoffenheim would have to take risks in order to get a result. “Because we’re starting in a really strong position. Because I trust in our ability to get a point or a victory there.” He also spoke of his incomprehension of the attitude of some towards the predicament we find ourselves in going into this game, saying ” (I) absolutely cannot understand how it could now be regarded as an unfavourable situation. We will give it our all to achieve our objective and I am convinced that we can make it.”
In terms of personnel to choose from for the game Stoeger finds himself in a tricky situation. A suspension for Sokratis Papastathopoulos and calf injury picked up against Mainz by Omer Toprak means that we will be without our first choice centre back pairing for this game. Manuel Akanji is likely to take one of the slots in the centre, and could be partnered by Lukasz Piszcszek or the returning Dan-Axel Zagadou. Alternatively, Patrick Mainka has been promoted from the under-23’s side and could be given his debut today. Also returning to the fold will be Raphael Guerreiro and Shinji Kagawa, the latter for the first time since the 0-0 draw in Salzburg in early April.
This is bound to be a game of high quality and drama if history is anything to go by. There have previously been eight penalty and seven red cards in the twenty one competitive fixtures between these two sides. Only Bayern Munich have recorded more home wins (fourteen) than Hoffnheim (ten) this season, while Bayern are also the only side to avoid defeat more often on the road during 2017/18 (three) than BVB (four). One thing is clear today: Something’s gotta give.