Jeremie Frimpong (l.) and Julian Ryerson are set for a compelling battle on Matchday 30. - © IMAGO/Weis/TEAM2sportphoto
Jeremie Frimpong (l.) and Julian Ryerson are set for a compelling battle on Matchday 30. - © IMAGO/Weis/TEAM2sportphoto

Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayer Leverkusen: How do they stack up?


The newly crowned Bundesliga champions Bayer Leverkusen rock up at a buzzing Signal Iduna Park to face Borussia Dortmund for what is set to be a celebration of football this weekend. Yet once the pre-match niceties are placed to one side, both teams will knuckle down as they get to work on trying to achieve their respective lofty goals.

The UEFA Champions League semi-finalist Black and Yellows are aiming for a Bundesliga top-four finish while Xabi Alonso's all-conquering, treble-chasing Leverkusen want to see their top-flight term out with an unbeaten record. compares and contrasts the top-class talent on both sides ahead of Sunday's showdown

Full-back flair

Fireworks down the flanks are a given seeing as though we have a quartet of the division's best full-backs ready to go head to head. In the Borussia corner are Julian Ryerson and Ian Maatsen, an eclectic duo who combine to bring defensive solidity and attacking know-how to Dortmund's game.

Norway international Ryerson is enjoying his best season on the goalscoring front, weighing in with four strikes, with a sweetly-struck beauty in the recent Klassiker win against Bayern Munich chief among them. "Julian always wants to push himself to his limits; he's definitely someone who's an asset for us as a group," coach Edin Terzić recently said of his defeder. 

Watch: Ryerson on target in Der Klassiker 

With 15 shots and 430 sprints in 18 appearances of an injury-disrupted campaign, Ryerson's determination is unquestioned at the home of Die Borussen. "Putting in the best performance that I can and having the best body language [out on the pitch] is one of the most important things for me, the player who was also on the scoresheet against Leverkusen earlier this season said in an interview with BVB's media team. "I always want to improve, I'm never satisfied and there's more to come from me." 

That should serve as a warning to the Bundesliga's new champions, as should Maatsen's presence on the opposite flank. The Dutch defender may not have reached Ryerson's goals count (he's currently on a goal and two assists), but the 22-year-old has nonetheless been a superb loan acquisition for Dortmund since his winter switch from Chelsea and he has brought his appearances tally up to 17 in all competitions as Die Schwarzgelben dream of Champions League silverware to add to their aim finishing among the Bundesliga's top four teams. 

Watch: Maatsen clicking in BVB's tactical set-up

“Everyone knows my quality .... and I have the chance to show it here," Maatsen told The Guardian following his move to Germany. “[Dortmund] put trust in me and I put trust in them; I think that’s why it went so well," the Netherlands U21 international continued. "I play free and don’t think about anything. When I see space to go forward I take it." It is not only about those forays forward, however. Maatsen is a highly technically gifted full-back who can also pick out an astute pass to get his team moving on the counter-attack.

Which is where part of the appeal of Saturday's showdown lies. For if BVB favour the quick-transition, their opponents Leverkusen can also give a masterclass in counter-thrusts using wide areas. The irrepressible Álex Grimaldo and Jeremie Frimpong are unsurpassable in terms of their numbers from full-back, with the duo producing a combined total of 36 goal involvements in Leverkusen's successful run to Meisterschale glory. When you consider that that figure represents almost half of Bayer's goals tally in the top tier so far this term, the stats inspire awe. 

Watch: Grimaldo is rocking the Bundesliga 

"I always had pretty good numbers in terms of goals and assists," Spain international Grimaldo told The Athletic. Making decisions in the final third of the pitch is one of my strong points and this year things are turning out really well with the help of Xabi Alonso, his staff and my teammates. 

Frimpong has also thrived under Alonso, the player noting the improvements he has made that have seen him score eight goals and provide seven assists in the Bundesliga this season. “When I was at [former club] Celtic, I was getting up there and I would not finish the actions," the Amsterdam native told the Associated Press. "That’s one thing I had to improve on my game, because what’s the point if you go all the way up there and you don’t finish?” 

Midfield string pullers  

It's set to be the heart of the matter: the temperature of the engine room at the Signal Iduna Park on Sunday will be roaring hot, but the job of those wily competitors at the centre of the action will be to keep their cool as they look to dictate the game's flow. Fierce competitors one and all, Emre Can, Marcel Sabitzer, Granit Xhaka and Robert Andrich are four players you'd ideally want on your side, but on opposing teams, they make up a colossal coming together in the middle of the park. 

Watch: Sabitzer at the double in Gladbach

Sabitzer in particular is a man in form, the Austrian having netted three goals and provided two assists in his last two competitive outings: namely last weekend's victory against Borussia Mönchengladbach and the midweek Champions League quarter final triumph against Atlético Madrid.

Can, meanwhile, has assumed the grand responsibility that came with being named BVB captain this season and he has largely held sway in his 33 appearances in all competitions in 2023/24, even helping out in central defence when the need rose. "I’ll stand up, take responsibility and lead from the front; I’ve always said that," the Germany international said. "I often say a few things in the dressing room, usually positive things, making sure everyone's ready."

And ready the BVB players will have to be against a Leverkusen side that has the ultra-competitive Xhaka as one of its driving forces. The Swiss scored a stunner as Leverkusen enjoyed a title-winning win against Werder Bremen last weekend and his calling as Xabi Alonso's voice out on the pitch has been one of the big reasons for Bayer's big success this season.

"I didn’t move here to play at being the boss or the manager. Not at all," Xhaka said in an interview with The Athletic. "I came here to lead this young team a little bit thanks to my experience at a top level abroad," he added. "I know when to push and I know when to fall back, I know when to speed up the game and when to slow it down." 

Watch: Granit Xhaka - Leverkusen's beating heart

Having Andrich alongside has helped. The Potsdam-born central midfielder's performances this campaign have been so good that - at 29 - he has emerged as a real contender for a starting berth with Germany at UEFA Euro 2024. Andrich's senior international debut came against Austria just last November, while he has since featured in the victories against France and the Netherlands as he excels for club and country.     

Attacking flair

Julian Brandt, Florian Wirtz, Jadon Sancho, Jonas Hofmann, Donyell Malen, Nathan Tella, Karim Adeyemi, Amine Adli, Jamie Bynoe-Gittens: a list of quick-footed, defence-disturbing, speed-demons with intricate skills and incisive movement. It's little wonder this weekend's spellbinding fixture is high on the list of games not to be missed among Europe's top leagues.

When BVB are on the move, more often than not, it's Brandt through whom most things flow. With 11 assists, Dortmund's blond assassin trails only Grimaldo (12) in that particular Bundesliga ranking, while the six times he has hit the back of the net this term equates to 17 goal involvements for the 27-year-old former Leverkusen schemer.

Ably assisted by Manchester United loanee Sancho, Dortmund also have options should Dutch wizard Malen fail to shake off a knock to make it in time for this game. Bynoe-Gittens is one of those who could fill an attacking role, with the 19-year-old coming on leaps and bounds for a Borussia side in which he has found the net in the Bundesliga and Champions League this term.

Leverkusen’s attacking star Wirtz hit a hat-trick from the bench as his side eased past Bremen on the Werkself’s title-winning weekend. Still only 20, the champions' No.10 has been a mesmerising, magical member of Bayer’s brilliant team and his performances have lit up the division during a season to remember. A career-high 21 goal involvements in the Bundesliga (11 goals, 10 assists) mark him out as one more to watch at the Signal Iduna Park, where attacking entertainment will be present at every turn on Sunday.    

Striking battle 

In a strange quirk of fate, both Niclas Füllkrug and Victor Boniface arrive into this Matchday 30 encounter with identical records in front of goal. The forwards have each racked up 11 goals and eight assists, although Leverkusen’s frontman has managed his tally having played 10 games fewer than Dortmund’s Germany international. Füllkrug could, of course, counter with the fact that he has taken 26 shots fewer than Boniface over the course of a campaign in which the latter was injured for a lengthy period.

Watch: Füllkrug lighting up BVB 

It may be all in the small details once the opening whistle blows at the Westfalenstadion this weekend, when both strikers will be keen to add to their respective goal stats on Sunday. That’s especially true of Füllkrug, who ended a nine-game scoring drought to put Dortmund 3-2 in front in his side’s ultimately successful second-leg win against Atlético last Tuesday. "He knows that we depend on his goals,” coach Terzić said prior to Dortmund’s European win. “One thing is the goals, the other thing is that you always put yourself at the service of the team.”

That’s something that Boniface has been doing for Leverkusen since his summer switch from Belgian side Union Saint-Gilloise. The Nigerian burst onto the scene at the BayArena with seven goals and three assists in his first six games in all competitions for the club, and his assistance to Leverkusen’s treble-chasing cause cannot be understated, even despite a groin inury that kept the 23-year-old sidelined from mid-January to the beginnig of April.

“We have a large group of 20-25 players here, not just 11, and everyone gives 100 per cent whenever they get their chance,” Boniface said, perhaps in a nod to striking partner Patrik Schick, who excelled during the African’s absence. Back playing and back scoring again, Boniface’s battle with Füllkrug to be the game’s match-winner this weekend could prove pivotal.