Erling Haaland and Achraf Hakimi are two of Borussia Dortmund's best assets in a squad that boasts serious strength in depth. - © Borussia Dortmund
Erling Haaland and Achraf Hakimi are two of Borussia Dortmund's best assets in a squad that boasts serious strength in depth. - © Borussia Dortmund
bundesliga

Do Borussia Dortmund have the best squad in the Bundesliga?

Without Marco Reus, Axel Witsel and Emre Can, and with Jadon Sancho only on the bench, Borussia Dortmund were anything but full strength for their Revierderby meeting with Schalke on Bundesliga Matchday 26. Did it make an ounce of difference? Not in the slightest.

Dortmund breezed to victory, recording a 4-0 triumph that ranks as the fixture's biggest and BVB's second-highest winning margin in meetings with local rivals Schalke since 1966. So much for ring rust.

"A 4-0 win against Schalke is a good result," commented head coach Lucien Favre of his side's first competitive meeting since 7 March, after the global coronavirus pandemic had put the 2019/20 Bundesliga season on ice.

"We played well as a team and defensively - that was key. We didn't know where we'd be at after such a long break, but the players concentrated on the task at hand."

And how. Against the backdrop of a fan-less empty Signal Iduna Park - Dortmund's 81,365-capacity inner sanctum - and the biggest rivalry in German football, Favre's rejigged ensemble served notice of their title intentions in a supremely polished team display.

Shielded by Favre's now favoured three-man defence, goalkeeper Roman Bürki scarcely had a save to make as BVB recorded a fourth successive home clean sheet for the first time in four years. Lukasz Piszczek and Mats Hummels - surviving members of Jürgen Klopp's back-to-back title winners of 2010/11 and 2011/12 - were equal parts assured and uncompromising, while Manuel Akanji slotted back in seamlessly in the absence of Dan-Axel Zagadou. Collectively, the trio limited Schalke to just 10 shots on goal - only three of which landed on target.

Dortmund are among the top five defences in the Bundesliga this season, with 33 goals conceded. - Pool/Martin Meissner/Pool via Getty Images

The midfield also played their part. Making only nine league starts combined prior to the derby, Mahmoud Dahoud and Thomas Delaney excelled in the Witsel-Can twin enforcer role. Dahoud even went close to a first Bundesliga goal in over two years with a rocket-propelled effort from range, while Delaney's no-nonsense intervention was the catalyst for Dortmund's third goal.

"Dortmund's No.6s had too much space to influence the game," observed Schalke captain Daniel Caligiuri after the game. "We couldn't get a grip on things."

Dortmund's stranglehold on proceedings extended to the flanks where wing-backs Achraf Hakimi and Raphael Guerreiro were allowed to canter into opposition territory at will, the latter scoring twice to take his 2019/20 tally to a career-best seven Bundesliga goals, and five in his last eight.

Yet the real surprise was on the right-hand side of the front three, a position normally reserved for Jadon Sancho. The 20-year-old has had a hand in more goals than any player in this season's Bundesliga - 14 goals and 15 assists - but was only named among the substitutes in a real curveball move on Favre's part.

It proved a masterstroke as all-purpose attacker Julian Brandt put in arguably his most rounded individual performance since making the switch from Bayer Leverkusen in summer 2019. The 24-year-old was involved in all four goals, producing a pair of direct assists, whist winning a game-leading 15 of his attempted challenges.

"Brandt's a street footballer, he plays with a smile on his face and showed how happy he was to be back on the pitch after nine weeks away," said German pundit and former player Dietmar Hamann. "He was involved in all of Dortmund's most dangerous openings."

Schalke could not live with livewire Dortmund attacker Julian Brandt (c.) in the 96th Revierderby of the Bundesliga era. - getty images

Thorgan Hazard was the gleeful recipient of one of Brandt's seek-and-destroy forward passes, despite wrestling with cramp and initially being named on the bench before American teenager Gio Reyna was forced to pull out with a muscle injury sustained in the warm-up. The Belgian also provided the assist for Dortmund's opening goal, dispatched with trademark precision by Erling Haaland.

The 19-year-old's unfussy finish came shortly after he had tickled the side-netting with his first shot on goal, and was his 10th in nine Bundesliga matches. Only Paco Alcacer reached double figures in less time (281 to 541 minutes), while Dortmund now have three players - Reus and Sancho being the other two - on 10 or more Bundesliga goals for the season. No wonder the team have struck a club-record 72 times after 26 matches.

Watch: Erling Haaland on scoring the first Bundesliga goal after the restart

With the game sewn up by the 63rd minute, Favre took advantage of a new, albeit temporary, rule permitting five substitutions per team rather than the usual three.

Four fully fledged senior internationals in Argentina defender Leonardo Balerdi, Germany left-back Marcel Schmelzer, 2014 FIFA World Cup-winning hero Mario Götze and England's Sancho duly entered the fold at various junctures - evidence enough of Favre's ludicrously deep squad.

Alongside second-choice goalkeeper Marwin Hitz, Spain U18 defender Mateu Morey and reserve-team players Chris Führich - a scorer of eight fourth-tier goals this season - and Tobias Räschl made up the unused portion of the BVB bench.

Had the derby not been Dortmund's first since the easing of the coronavirus lockdown - with fitness and momentum paramount - the young trio might well have been treated to a Bundesliga debut. Needless to say, their time will come with fixtures set to come thick and fast in the weeks ahead.

Two-time Argentina international centre-back Leonardo Balerdi made his second Bundesliga appearance on Matchday 26. - Poolfoto via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Poolfoto

Dortmund assumed the role of hunted for much of last season, surrendering the title to record champions Bayern Munich down the pressure-cooker final straight. Now they are the ones doing the chasing, a once fragile underbelly tempered by an enviably well-balanced collection of big-game hitters and youthful insouciance.

Eight wins from nine Bundesliga matches in 2020 is already as many as BVB mustered during the entire first half of the 2019/20. Ten victories and three draws makes the Black-Yellows the only team yet to taste defeat on home soil in the league this season.

With eight rounds of fixtures remaining, the gap to league leaders Bayern stands at a surmountable four points.

Watch: Dortmund's deadly attack!

A season-ending injury to Zagadou means Favre won't have a full complement of players when Dortmund - via their Matchday 27 trip to Wolfsburg - welcome Bayern to the Signal Iduna Park on 26 May.

Midfielders Witsel and Can "should make the grade", according to the Swiss tactician, but the involvement of talismanic captain Reus hangs in the balance. The 30-year-old has not played in the Bundesliga since moving onto 11 goals for the season in the 5-0 rout of Union Berlin on 2 February due to a troublesome adductor injury, and has yet to return to full team training.

Happily for Dortmund's current crop, no Reus does not mean no party.

Chris Mayer-Lodge