After UCL exit, Dortmund face draining mental challenge at Gladbach
DORTMUND, Germany -- Now that Borussia Dortmund have been knocked out of the Champions League, they most focus on the race to qualify for next season's Champions League as they trail third-placed Hoffenheim by one point in the Bundesliga with five matches remaining. The Black and Yellows will play at the Borussia Park in Saturday's clash of the Boussias against ninth-placed Monchengladbach.
Describing Dortmund's task of grabbing a result in Gladbach as "tricky" would be a gross understatement after the team had to bid farewell to their dream of a Champions League semifinal on Wednesday while also being in the midst of processing the attack on their team bus last week.
Even under normal circumstances, Thomas Tuchel's men struggled to perform in the league after demanding Champions League nights, especially if they had to play away from home. Having only won four of fifteen away matches this season, BVB's away record leaves a lot to be desired with five draws and six losses.
And on Saturday, a lot of factors will come together to make it extra tough for the Black and Yellows. The lingering effects of the attack, tired legs and the mental strain of a Champions League quarterfinal -- not to mention the DFB-Pokal semifinal against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena the following Wednesday.
On top of all that, Tuchel, who is still perfect against Gladbach with three wins out of three, will most likely have to do without Marco Reus. The Dortmund coach told Friday's news conference that it will be a close call for the 27-year-old midfielder, who just returned from a muscle injury on Saturday in BVB's 3-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt, whether he can start or even make the squad after playing 90 minutes in Monaco.
Coming up with a competitive lineup will be especially tricky for Tuchel, because he of course has to consider which players are still dealing with last week's attack and are unable to fully focus on an important match as the season turns into the final stretch.
"I can say that I'm personally dealing rather well at the moment, I'm okay to also say that publicly but I wouldn't dare to speak for my players or say the same about my players," Tuchel told journalists, adding: "However, we cannot expect the same [diligence] of the players as we usually would demand it. Not everyone is feeling the same as I am and everyone has a right to take the time he needs, which is why the upcoming match in Gladbach has to be put in parentheses. It will require a lot of sensitivity from us to determine in how far we can confront players with criticism. We can still sense that a lot of players are still under the impression [of the attack]."
The team can take courage away from their home win over Frankfurt, in which they could show their usual joy of playing and attacking, but they were also helped by a lackadaisical opponent that seemed tactically underprepared and did not manage to cleanly execute counter-attacks. The Black and Yellows will have to hope that Dieter Hecking's Gladbach will also not play to their capability.
Saturday's hosts will have to make do without some important players themselves. The always influential Brazilian forward Raffael is joined by U.S. international Fabian Johnson and German international Christoph Kramer on the list of unavailable players, while Thorgan Hazard remains doubtful. Although weakened, the Foals still have excellent striking personnel in their ranks available in Lars Stindl, Andre Hahn, Patrick Herrmann and Mahmoud Dahoud. The latter will join Dortmund in summer, but Hecking promised: "Mo will show everything he has for the real Borussia."
While Hecking's 4-4-2 with a focus on counter-attacks from the wings is predictable, Dortmund being susceptible to counter-attacks is similarly expected, making for an interesting match in North-Rhein Westfalia where goals on both ends can be counted on.
The Black and Yellows need at least a point to keep their hopes of a top-three league finish in their own hands, while Gladbach could pave their way to a Europa League finish with a win of their own. It's crunch time.
Stefan Buczko covers Borussia Dortmund for ESPN FC. Twitter: @StefanBuczko.