Borussia Dortmund and Werder Bremen may be poles apart in the table when they meet in the Bundesliga on Matchday 28 but in terms of motivation, they will be on a similar page. And the visitors have a real ace up their sleeve.
Dortmund's title challenge is still on track with seven games of the season remaining (), and victory on Saturday evening will keep the prospect of one of the tightest title races in recent seasons alive. Werder have other priorities that make them a particular threat, however, and the league table can be no adequate gauge of the dangers Viktor Skripnik's men pose.
'Nobody will catch up with me!'
One name above all others is likely to send a shiver down the spine of Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel: Claudio Pizarro. With 11 goals in ten appearances since the turn of the year, even Borussia's own star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (four goals in 2016) is trailing in the Peruvian's wake. Pizarro's achievements make him the league's joint-top scorer in the Rückrunde together with FC Bayern München's Robert Lewandowski.
Pizarro’s latest strike against 1. FSV Mainz 05 – his 188th in the Bundesliga, reinforcing his already cast-iron status as the most prolific foreigner ever to grace German football – took him level with Marco Bode as the northern Germany club's leading all-time goalscorer on 101. Now he wants that record all for himself.
"When I come back from international duty, I want to get a few more goals for Werder," said the 37-year-old. "That will ensure nobody will catch up with me in a hurry!"
There is more about the Peruvian than just sticking the ball in the back of the net, however. "He's incredible," said Pizarro’s team-mate Jannik Vestergaard. "Claudio's playing on such a high level, but he’s not only important to us because of his goals – Claudio's a great guy on and off the field. It's an honour for all of us to be able to play with him, with all the experience he's got and all the titles he's already won."
Pizarro on the brink
Goals are the most important currency in football, though, and there can be no doubting Pizarro's contribution in 2016 has been significant. His goals have helped Bremen pick up eight points from their last five games with no other side – not even Dortmund or FC Bayern München – scoring as many as the 11 Bremen have netted in that period, at an average of over two per game.
"I think [Pizarro’s] more motivated now than ever to get that 102nd goal," said Skripnik. "Hopefully he can keep this up over the weeks to come." Indeed, that is the auspice of all Bremen fans with just a point separating Die Grün-Weißen from the relegation zone in one of the tightest scrambles for survival in recent seasons.
Dortmund 'incredibly consistent'
A trip to Dortmund, therefore, is probably the last thing Bremen wanted right now. The Westphalians are the only remaining club in the Bundesliga with an unbeaten home record, having conceded just nine goals in their 13 home fixtures, 11 of which have ended in a home win. BVB's overall record in 2016 is even more frightening, with 13 wins and two draws from their 15 games in all competitions.
Although the goals have dried up a little for Aubameyang, Dortmund are now spreading the responsibility of scoring over many more shoulders: Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marco Reus and Adrian Ramos have all chipped in recently, making BVB an even more formidable proposition, according to their former coach Ottmar Hitzfeld.
"They're incredibly consistent, even winning the games they don't play so well in," he told Sport Bild magazine. "The season's not over yet – five points is a misleading cushion for Bayern. It's good for the Bundesliga – it's more exciting than in recent years."
'Perfect blend of Guardiola and Klopp'
Hitzfeld, who guided the Westphalians to the Bundesliga title in 1995 and 1996, as well as the UEFA Champions League in 1997, believes much of that excitement is down to BVB supremo Tuchel. "Appointing him was absolutely right," said the 67-year-old. "He's a German coach with his own philosophy, and he's been able to put his stamp on the team.
"With him, BVB have become even more stable, harder to fathom and more versatile. They no longer race forward like headless chickens, but they have different options and that impresses me. Tuchel's the perfect blend of Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp."
It appears to be a winning blend, too, with Dortmund keeping up the chase of Bayern while preparing for a UEFA Europa League quarter-final with Klopp's new club Liverpool FC, not to mention a DFB Cup semi-final at Hertha Berlin at the end of April. With Bremen also due to face Bayern in the last four of the domestic cup, these two sides would certainly not mind meeting again in May, in an even battle in pursuit of silverware.