Bayern plot more Dortmund woe as Lewandowski returns
Robert Lewandowski is set to return to action for Bayern Munich this weekend as they look to score an important victory over troubled title rivals Borussia Dortmund.
The Polish star missed Tuesday's Champions League clash against Celtic with a back problem, but is expected to be fit to face his former club at Signal Iduna Park on Saturday.
Lewandowski's return will boost a Bayern side who are already full of confidence after their revival in recent weeks.
Saturday's fixture is an opportunity to extend their lead in the title race and heap more misery on a Dortmund side currently in crisis.
Despite injuries to Lewandowski, Franck Ribery and Thomas Mueller, Bayern have turned things around since Carlo Ancelotti was sacked at the end of September.
Under successor Jupp Heynckes, the champions have won six games out of six. They have overturned Dortmund's five-point advantage to claim top spot in the Bundesliga, notched up league and cup victories over RB Leipzig, and secured qualification to the knockout stages of the Champions League.
"We have taken a huge step in the last few weeks," Bayern forward Arjen Robben told Bild. "Three weeks ago, I wouldn't have believed you if you'd told me where we are now. But we have to keep our feet on the ground."
Dortmund, by contrast, have endured a disastrous few weeks. Peter Bosz's side have won just one of their last six games, dropping to second after defeats to both RB Leipzig and Hanover 96.
Consecutive draws against APOEL Nicosia have compounded their misery, destroying any hope of qualification from their Champions League group.
Under-fire coach Bosz, however, has claimed that he sees Saturday's fixture against Bayern as an opportunity.
"Maybe this game is coming at exactly the right moment," said Bosz. "At the beginning of the season, people were expecting a lot from us. On Saturday, perhaps they will expect a little less."
- Aubameyang drought -
Expectations have certainly dropped dramatically in recent weeks. Just three weeks ago, Dortmund were being described as title favourites. Lose on Saturday, and they will find themselves six points behind Bayern in the table.
The crisis has coincided with a goal drought for Lewandowski's opposite number Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Gabonese striker has failed to score in his last five appearances for Dortmund.
The team's biggest problem, though, remains the defence. Dortmund have conceded nine goals in their last three league games, leading to criticism of Bosz's tactical approach in the German media.
The Dutch coach has repeatedly defended his attacking philosophy, and this week insisted that he will stick to his guns against Bayern.
"We will not try to park the bus in front of goal, that's not the way we play," said Bosz.
Bosz is expected to make several changes to the team which faced APOEL in midweek, with Marcel Schmelzer, Andriy Yarmolenko and Gonzalo Castro set to return to the starting line-up.
Jerome Boateng and Kingsley Coman are expected to defy injury concerns and start for Bayern, while former Dortmund defender Mats Hummels will also return to action, having been rested in Glasgow in midweek.
Like Lewandowski, Hummels will be hoping that he can deal his old club a significant blow in the Bundesliga title race with victory this weekend.
Here are five key duels in the German league showdown:
Goetze v Thiago
After seven months out with a metabolism disorder, Germany's World Cup winner Mario Goetze is recapturing his best form.
The attacking midfielder has been Dortmund's best performer in the last fortnight when they dropped eight league points in defeats to RB Leipzig, Hanover 96 and the draw at Eintracht Frankfurt.
With Thomas Mueller injured, Thiago Alcantara is back in his favourite position of attacking midfielder.
With an average of 106 touches per game -- the highest in the team -- Thiago runs Bayern's attack.
Goetze shades the head-to-head stats with 18 passes which have led to goal chances this season compared to Thiago's 15.
Aubameyang v Lewandowski
The clash of the best strikers in Germany's top flight over the last two years.
Dortmund's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was top-scorer in the Bundesliga last season with 31 goals, one more than Lewandowski, who took the 2015/16 title with 30 goals.
Both have scored ten goals in as many league games this season.
However, Aubameyang is currently in a goal drought, failing to score in his last four games.
He drew another blank in Wednesday's 1-1 draw with APOEL in the Champions League.
Lewandowski was rested for Tuesday's 2-1 win at Celtic and has recovered from a thigh knock.
Despite his dip, Aubameyang has scored 15 goals in 16 games this season, one more than Lewandowski in as many matches.
Yarmolenko v Coman
Both wingers have pace to burn with Dortmund's Andriy Yarmolenko clocking 32.8km/h (9.1m per second) while Bayern's Kingsley Coman can hit 34.7km/h (9.6m per second)
By comparison, Usain Bolt clocked 12.27m per second in setting the world 100m record in 2009.
After starting his Dortmund career with a bang after signing from Dynamo Kiev in August, Yarmolenko, has struggled in recent weeks.
He has still provided two goals and three assists in his six league games.
Coman's best match was a goal and assist in the 5-0 thrashing of Freiburg last month.
The Frenchman is Bayern's quickest player and this season has dribbled past more opponents (39) than veterans Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery (34) together.
Burki v Ulreich
Goalkeeper Roman Burki has bombed in key games when Dortmund lost 3-1 to Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur in Europe, plus the 3-2 home league defeat to RB Leipzig.
Borussia's bosses insist they are planning with him as first-choice goalkeeper next season.
Statistically, especially given the leaky defence in front of him, Burki is a sound bet with 72 percent of shots on goal saved.
Sven Ulreich, Bayern's reserve goalkeeper, was thrust into the first-team in September when Manuel Neuer was ruled out until early 2018 with a fractured foot.
His contract expires next June.
Ulreich has said he wants to join another club where he will be first-choice, but betters Burki with 76 percent of shots at his goal saved.
Boateng v Sokratis
The match at Dortmund's Signal Iduna Park is likely to be decided in defence.
Jerome Boateng has resumed his partnership alongside Germany team-mate Mats Hummels after injury.
The World Cup winning centre-backs are a solid unit which will test Aubameyang.
Dortmund centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos was twice exposed for pace in last Saturday's shock 4-2 defeat at Hanover 96, but is a threat with headers from set-pieces.
Boateng prides himself on his silky-smooth, long passes from deep from which Bayern like to attack.
Fixtures (all times 1430 GMT unless stated):
Eintracht Frankfurt v Werder Bremen (1930)
RB Leipzig v Hanover, Freiburg v Schalke, Borussia Moenchengladbach v Mainz, Augsburg v Bayer Leverkusen, Hamburg v Stuttgart, Borussia Dortmund v Bayern Munich (1730)
Cologne v Hoffenheim, Wolfsburg v Hertha Berlin (1700)