Leonardo Bonucci, Marco Reus & Co. Borussia Dortmund vs. Union Berlin is filled with key men. - © DFL
Leonardo Bonucci, Marco Reus & Co. Borussia Dortmund vs. Union Berlin is filled with key men. - © DFL

How do Borussia Dortmund and Union Berlin stack up?


Borussia Dortmund take on Union Berlin on Saturday in a match that could prove to be a European six-pointer by the end of the campaign. Who will come out on top and why?

Both teams are in the UEFA Champions League this season, alongside Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig, and each will be hoping to at least repeat those lofty league finishes from last season.

Dortmund and Union took a win apiece in their 2022/23 meetings; Die Eisernen winning 2-0 at their Stadion An der Alten Försterei in October before BVB avenged that with a 2-1 victory at the Signal Iduna Park in April.

Who will be key to victory this time? bundesliga.com takes a closer look…

Two of the most passionate sets of fans in the Bundesliga figure to make plenty of noise on Saturday. - IMAGO/Kirchner-Media

Captains past and present with plenty to give

Marco Reus gave up the captain's armband at Dortmund at the start of this season, with Emre Can inheriting it and the pairing of Gregor Kobel and Niklas Süle acting as deputies, but the club legend remains just as important to the team.

Reus is Dortmund's top scorer in the Bundesliga this season with three goals - a number he shares with Donyell Malen, but has taken more than 200 minutes less playing time to achieve.

"We've always emphasised how important Marco is for us," head coach Edin Terzic said ahead of Dortmund's 3-1 win at Hoffenheim last Friday, in which Reus scored the go-ahead goal. "He took his chance last week [with the winner against Wolfsburg] in an impressive manner. That's how we want it…"

Watch: Reus, Dortmund's deadlock breaker

Where Dortmund have Reus, Union have something of a parallel figure in Sheraldo Becker. Whilst Christopher Trimmel is club captain, with Rani Khedira as first understudy, the former increasingly shares playing time with Josip Juranović while the latter is injured.

It means that Becker has been leading the team out more often than not in recent weeks, which is impressive in its own right given he now has summer signings Kevin Volland and David Datro Fofana as competition for places in the final third. 

Becker is yet to get off the mark in the Bundesliga this term, but two goals in the Champions League and one in the DFB Cup suggest it's only a matter of time.

Behrens following in Füllkrug's foot-steps

Kevin Behrens is the man getting Union's goals in the top-flight right now - four from six games played to date.

The striker didn't make his Bundesliga debut until he was 29, but calls for full international recognition with Germany have been growing louder in recent weeks, even if he is now 32.

A former Werder Bremen academy player, his journey is similar to that of Dortmund summer signing Niklas Füllkrug.

Niklas Füllkrug (l.) got off the mark for Dortmund against Hoffenheim on Matchday 6. - IMAGO/Sportfoto Rudel

Füllkrug joined from Bremen this summer as the 16-goal joint-top scorer in the Bundesliga last time around, but he also worked his way up through the lower reaches of German football after being allowed to leave Bremen in 2014, three years after Behrens' exit.

Füllkrug was three months shy of his 30th birthday when he made a goalscoring Germany debut in a friendly against Oman in November 2022, and that he tied Leipzig's Christopher Nkunku for the Torjägerkanone last season playing for a struggling team is testament to his ability.

Two northerners ageing like the finest Werderaner Wachtelberg wine, who will taste victory on Saturday?

Two veteran quarterbacks in Hummels and Bonucci

There was a time when a centre-back's job was simply to defend, their focus on winning the ball back with little concern as to what happened with it next, but Dortmund and Union both boast players who broke that mould in their careers in Mats Hummels and Leonardo Bonucci.

Today a centre-back might act like an NFL quarter-back when in possession, finding flying wingers (or should that be wide receivers?) with laser-sighted long balls forward.

Watch: A vintage Hummels quarterback pass for Reus

Hummels has averaged five progressive passes per 90 minutes over the last year, Bonucci three, their ability to find a teammate uninterrupted by their ages (34 and 36 respectively).

They have a job to do in both boxes, though. Hummels has two goals from five Bundesliga outings this season, and whilst Bonucci is only two league games into his Union career, he scored five goals for Juventus two short seasons ago.

Multiple leaders

In Reus and Hummels, Becker and Behrens, Dortmund and Union each have more than one place to look for leadership.

Can and Trimmel are the official captains of the two sides. The former is expected to start after shaking off a calf injury, and while the latter could sit out for Juranović, he offers a superior threat from set plays to the Croatian.

Union's captain Christopher Trimmel (c) has stared down the Yellow Wall before. - IMAGO/Eibner

Elsewhere, Julian Brandt and Malen seemed to be dragging Dortmund through the trenches at times this season, their form not wavering when others' did, and Brandt has been their deadliest player statistically with a goal and four assists.

Bonucci wasn't Union's only reinforcement with Champions League experience this summer, meanwhile, with Robin Gosens also arriving from Atalanta. The flying left-back has three Bundesliga goals to his name.

If Reus and Behrens don't get the goals on Saturday, Brandt and Gosens just might.

Two USMNT stars looking to earn their stripes

Dortmund and Union also each have an American midfielder looking to make a point on Matchday 7 in Gio Reyna and Brenden Aaronson, respectively.

Reyna has been sidelined with a hairline fracture in his leg since June, but returned to play for Dortmund's reserves recently and was back in the squad for the Wolfsburg game. It should only be a matter of time before the player who needed just 68 minutes per goal-involvement last season is thrown in.

Gio Reyna (l.) and Brenden Aaronson (r.), US international teammates but rivals this weekend. - imago images/Icon SMI

Aaronson and Reyna have been USMNT teammates since 2020, the year both made their senior international debuts, and the former followed the latter to German football this summer, joining Union on loan from Leeds.

He is yet to get off the mark for Union - competition for a midfield space from Aïssa Laïdouni, Janik Haberer and Lucas Tousart hasn't helped - but it shouldn't be forgotten that he scored four and laid on five more for Red Bull Salzburg as they won the Austrian Bundesliga two short seasons ago.