- Schalke meet local rivals Dortmund for the 88th time in the Bundesliga.
- The hosts need a win to keep their European hopes alive.
- Dortmund may rest players, but still focus on victory for many reasons.
The industrial Ruhr area of Germany is set to grind to a halt this Sunday as the area's biggest pastime becomes the ultimate priority with the 88th Bundesliga edition of the Revierderby.
The stakes are always high for such an intense fixture involving two of German football's most supported clubs, but coming as late in the season as this one, Sunday's clash is about more than just pride. Let bundesliga.com explain…
Schalke need to rescue season
A crushing 3-0 defeat to FC Ingolstadt 04 on Matchday 28 saw Schalke slip not only out of the top four, but out of the European qualification places entirely. It is a measure of how tight things are that 90 minutes can change a team's fortunes so dramatically, and that is why a stellar showing against their local rivals is more than just desired, it is necessary for the Royal Blues if they are to keep their hopes alive of joining BVB in the UEFA Champions League next season.
Shift in Dortmund's focus
The Revierderby would usually be the biggest game of the year for Dortmund, regardless of league position, but while it remains a huge fixture for the club and their fans, this time it falls in the shadows of a UEFA Europa League tie which is stealing the attention and BVB's focus. After a 1-1 draw against Liverpool FC at the SIGNAL IDUNA PARK on Thursday, coach Thomas Tuchel has admitted he may rest some players this weekend to ensure they are fresh for the return leg of their quarter-final tie at Anfield next week. "Liverpool, Schalke, Liverpool – it's not just tiring physically, but also mentally," he said. Balancing that tie with the continued pursuit of FC Bayern München at the top of the Bundesliga, and denting their local rivals' European aspirations is the challenge Tuchel faces.
The legacy of a win
Victory in the Revierderby is not only important for the three points it earns, but it could also provide the boost Schalke desperately need to face up to their final five fixtures with the necessary conviction. "This is a chance for us to get a positive atmosphere back on our side," said Royal Blues head coach Andre Breitenreiter. "But we must do better than in Ingolstadt." That is a given, and with games against Bayern and Bayer 04 Leverkusen following straight after, confidence is something Schalke will need plenty of in the next few weeks.
Huntelaar: a man for the derby
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is certainly no stranger to the Revierderby, although he has been notable by his absence from recent Schalke starting XIs. After sitting out the win over Borussia Mönchengladbach and coming on late in the Ingolstadt defeat, a return to prominence is on the cards for the Dutch destroyer. With four goals in 10 previous derby meetings in the Bundesliga, Huntelaar could be a key element of Schalke's game. "He doesn't only score the goals, he also has the right mentality which is important for a derby," said Schalke's sporting director Horst Heldt.
While Tuchel has tried to lower the expectations somewhat in view of a torrid period of fixtures, he is equally aware that Dortmund could achieve something historic this season and win a treble. "Of course we desperately want to win, but we've got to know how to deal with the strains," he said. Those strains are not likely to ease with next Thursday's trip to Merseyside potentially filling what would otherwise be the only midweek gaps in Dortmund's fixture list. With just five points to make up on Bayern at the top of the table, snatching the Bundesliga title from the Bavarians is not out of the question either, leaving Dortmund the chance to lift three trophies this season. Throw in the Torjägerkanone, which Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can still win, and it could be a regal season for BVB.