With Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig going head-to-head in the DFB Cup final on Thursday, where will the battle be won when the likes of Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho take on Tyler Adams, Dayot Upamecano and Co.?
bundesliga.com casts an eye over how the two sides stack up...
Lines of attack
Dortmund are the second-highest scorers in this season's Bundesliga behind leaders Bayern Munich, with their 69 goals outstripping Leipzig’s 57 by 12 strikes. Both their xGoals rate of 63.4 and 64 major chances over the course of the campaign also outrank Leipzig’s returns of 58.9 and 56, respectively.
Of their 69 strikes, Haaland’s personal return of 25 from 26 appearances accounts for 36.2 percent. The Norwegian tends to score in bulk, too, having hit nine doubles this season and also bagged four in one sitting against Hertha Berlin on Matchday 8. He’s also scored twice in each of his two outings against Leipzig.
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After his latest brace in the win over Wolfsburg, interim boss Edin Terzic reflected: “We know Erling is a top forward. If he gets a number of chances, then the probability he will score is very high. He didn’t have so many chances today, but he was very clinical for us.”
The return of Haaland’s partner-in-crime, Sancho, to the first-team fold following injury adds even more potency to the Dortmund attack. His eight league goals are the club’s next highest after Haaland; his nine assists mean he’s been involved in no fewer than 17 of Dortmund’s goals - or 24.6 percent; while the Londoner has been the most dangerous attacking outlet in this season's DFB Cup, with four goals and four assists coming in at a rate of one every 54 minutes.
Sancho has played a part in seven goals in six games against Leipzig (four goals, three assists) - hitting a match-winning double just last weekend - but whereas BVB are more reliant on this supercharged duo, Julian Nagelsmann’s side have delivered their 2021/22 scoring more by committee.
It’s Emil Forsberg, Marcel Sabitzer (both seven) and Christopher Nkunku (six) who have had the most success in front of goal for Leipzig, while Angelino – a defender by trade – has been involved in more RBL goals than any of his teammates in all competitions; 19 (eight goals, 11 assists).
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It shows that Nagelsmann’s charges can muster up goals from anywhere on the pitch - they boast a league-high 16 diffrence scorers - but without a deadly-duo such as Haaland and Sancho to rely on week-in, week-out, they do fall short when held directly up against Dortmund’s attack.
A case for the defence
Leipzig truly excel at the other end of the pitch though, and they have conceded just 28 goals from 32 matchdays, and only one in five games on their way to the final. It means they boast the league’s most miserly defence – conceding four fewer times than next-best Wolfsburg and having shipped 16 goals less than the Black-Yellows.
It all starts with goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi, who has kept a league-high 15 clean sheets in 32 appearances this term. The 30-year-old told bundesliga.com recently that he believed his performances now make him one of the best 'keepers in Europe – something few would disagree with – but that the entire defence deserves to take credit for those shutouts.
"Of course, to have 13 clean sheets doesn’t just show that you have a good goalkeeper, it means that you have a good team in front of you, and a good team who is defending well,” he said, prior to forcing Hoffenheim and Stuttgart into firing further blanks. “For me, it’s a really important aspect of our game.”
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Indeed it is, and the presence of the likes of Upamecano, Lukas Klostermann, Ibrahima Konate and Willi Orban in front of him make for imposing roadblocks. And that’s before you factor in the influence of Angelino, Marcel Halstenberg, Benjamin Henrichs and Nordi Mukiele on the flanks of Nagelsmann’s preferred three-man defence.
Dortmund’s backline is a little less settled, especially in goal where Roman Bürki (17 games, four clean sheets) and the injured Marwin Hitz (16 games, seven clean sheets) have shared duties between the sticks.
Things have been more consistent in front of them, but – once again – it’s from an attacking sense that Dortmund’s defence stands out. No centre-back has more goals than Mats Hummels (five) so far in 2020/21, while Raphaël Guerreiro’s 10 assists is a league-high for defenders.
A defender’s main task is to defend, however, which gives Leipzig the edge in a tantalising battle between a red-hot attack and a razor-sharp defence.
The midfield minefield
Where the other two areas of the pitch point to fairly convincing arguments as to who edges the encounter, the midfield is more complicated. Both sides offer both craft and graft in equal measure, and have serious engine rooms that suggest the battle may ultimately be decided in the middle of the pitch.
Axel Witsel’s season-ending injury in Dortmund’s 3-1 win in this fixture’s reverse looked a real blow, but BVB have dealt with the Belgian’s absence superbly. Jude Bellingham’s emergence has been startling, the 17-year-old making 43 competitive appearances in his debut season in Germany, more often than not at the expense of Thomas Delaney.
Emre Can and Mahmoud Dahoud – another excellent performer over the course of the back end of the season – and captain Marco Reus, who has dropped ever so slightly deeper in recent weeks, add steel and guile to Terzic’s midfield armoury.
In the Leipzig ranks, their skipper Sabitzer has similarly found success a nudge further back and is flourishing alongside one of Adams or Kevin Kampl. Both of which make for fine company and have allowed Dani Olmo and Amadou Haidara to have a greater impact in attacking areas.
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It’s much like how Dortmund’s solid base gives Gio Reyna and Sancho the freedom to cause. This is where Dahoud has been a breath of fresh air over the past couple of months and he has featured in all 15 of the team’s previous 15 Bundesliga matchdays after making just five appearances across the first 18 weeks of the season. The Syria-born Germany international also played the full 90 of the DFB Cup quarter-final win over former employers Borussia Mönchengladbach, before sitting out the 5-0 semi-final rout of Holstein Kiel through suspension.
"It isn’t easy when you haven’t played for a long time. You try to get back in the groove, you just try to play, you try to get more confidence,” he told Dortmund’s Matchday Magazine in February. “If you play every game, you can keep improving – and that’s what I’m trying to do right now.”
Going up against Sabitzer & Co. will be a real test of Dahoud’s recent development and, such is the quality across both teams’ midfield, that battle between both parties will not only make for fascinating viewing, but could prove decisive.