Borussia Dortmund v Schalke: David's boys can annoy Goliath
The Bundesliga is back with one of the biggest games in the German football calendar. Kevin Hatchard says Borussia Dortmund might not make a flying start against Schalke.
Borussia Dortmund v Schalke Saturday 16 May, 14:30 Live on Betfair Live Video and BT Sport
Title chasers under immediate pressure
While many people connected with football are delighted to see the Bundesliga return this weekend, there is something grimly ironic about the centre-piece of the first weekend without fans being one of the games that usually allows supporters to make the Bundesliga so special. The Revierderby is the game they call "the mother of all derbies", a battle of yellow and blue, an atmosphere to swell the soul and make the hairs on the back of your neck stand proud.
Therefore, this geisterspiel (ghost game) version of the Ruhr rumble will be like no other. Borussia Dortmund are the only team with an unbeaten home record in the Bundesliga this season, but they will be shorn of the support they can normally count on, and that could have a detrimental effect.
It's also worth noting that Dortmund are under huge pressure in the title race - a four-point lead for Bayern Munich means Lucien Favre's side has little margin for error. Another negative factor is that BVB have been deprived of key players by injury - midfielders Emre Can and Axel Witsel are unavailable, while rapidly-improving French defender Dan-Axel Zagadou and skipper Marco Reus are still struggling for fitness.
It's always possible that Dortmund's superstar forwards will click anyway, and overwhelm their opponents. Teenage titan Erling Haaland has whacked in nine goals in his first eight Bundesliga matches, while England's Jadon Sancho has scored 14 league goals and made a further 15.
Wagner calling for special effort
Schalke boss David Wagner understands better than most the gravity attached to the Revierderby. He played for the Royal Blues, and was part of the famed Eurofighter squad that won the UEFA Cup in 1997. He has also crossed the yellow-blue divide, having worked as a youth coach for Borussia Dortmund.
Wagner has described this as the biggest game of Schalke's season, but in terms of the overall campaign, the pressure simply isn't as suffocating for the visitors as it is for Dortmund. Die Konigsblauen are in pole position in the race for sixth spot, and given last season's catastrophic campaign, a top-six finish in Wagner's first term would have to be seen as a huge success.
Impressive young defender Ozan Kabak is injured, but crucially, dynamic midfielder Suat Serdar is back to full fitness. His energy and drive will be pivotal, especially in the absence of the influential Omar Mascarell. Moroccan magician Amine Harit sparkled in the first half of the season before fading sharply, but Wagner seems confident that some tactical adjustments can get the best out of him.
Dogged Schalke can make life tough
Schalke have developed a useful habit of frustrating their bitter rivals in recent meetings. They held them to a goalless draw in the reverse fixture, they won 4-2 at Signal Iduna Park last term in a game that probably wrecked Dortmund's title push and two seasons ago they came back from 4-0 down to draw 4-4.
Schalke's form was dreadful when the season was suspended, but it's a fact that this group of players raises its game in the Revierderby, and the Royal Blues have only lost one of these clubs' last eight meetings. I'll give Wagner's men a goal start here at just above evens by using the Asian Handicap.
Unders not as crazy a bet as it seems
Given Dortmund's incredible level of talent in attack, and the fact they have scored 41 goals in just 12 Bundesliga home matches, it's no surprise to see Under 2.5 Goals trading at a chunky 2.44. However, if Schalke set up as I believe they will, looking to frustrate and destroy, then we may see a similar game to the goalless draw at the Veltins Arena earlier this season. Four of the last seven league meetings between the sides have featured fewer than three goals.
Haaland and Sancho to find the net?
If you do think that Dortmund will break down Schalke at some stage, it's always worth considering Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho when evaluating a goalscorer bet. Haaland has averaged better than a goal a game since arriving from Salzburg, while Sancho has scored in every Bundesliga home game he has played since September 28. Even if we think Schalke can keep things tight, that doesn't necessarily mean one of these two wonderkids won't score at some stage.
Haaland is 1.80to score at any time, while Sancho is trading at 2.46.