FEATURE | Bundesliga Preview – Week 9: How will Borussia Dortmund cope without Erling Haaland?

The Bundesliga season rolls on to its ninth matchday this weekend, and there is plenty to pique your interest. But what should you be looking out for in particular? Here, we bring you five things to keep an eye on.

1 | Bayer Leverkusen to bounce back against FC Köln?

There was a distinct sense of déjà vu surrounding Bayer Leverkusen’s loss to Bayern Munich during matchday eight. Just like last season, the ‘Werkself’ went into their campaign’s first encounter with the Bavarians in impressive form, having won five of their opening seven league matches as they shared the table lead with the reigning champions. 12 months ago, they were beaten 2-1 thanks to a last-minute Robert Lewandowski strike, and they were once again on the losing side last week. Only this time, they were taught a true footballing lesson by Bayern, losing 5-1 in a truly humbling clash.

After that previous narrow defeat, Leverkusen lost eight of their next 14 Bundesliga matches and ended up sixth at the end of the campaign despite being the leaders when their term fell apart. New boss Gerardo Seoane’s job is to make sure history does not repeat itself, starting against Köln on Saturday. The ‘Geißböcke’ provide a challenge – not only have they started the season well, sitting in seventh place after eight games, but the geographical proximity between the two sides makes this encounter a Rhein derby.

Köln were also on the end of a heavy defeat seven days ago, losing 5-0 to Hoffenheim, but that only means they will be eager to return to form as soon as possible, especially with a local rival next up. It is therefore vital that Leverkusen banish any lingering thoughts of their previous match. Otherwise, they could be looking at the start of another nightmare run.

2 | Eintracht Frankfurt must translate Europa League form to the Bundesliga

On Thursday, Eintracht Frankfurt continued their positive start to their Europa League campaign with a 3-1 win over Olympiacos. The result sees them maintain their spot at the top of Group D and, with a five-point buffer over third-placed Fenerbahce at the halfway stage, the ‘Adler’ are well-positioned to progress to the next round of the competition.

Their form in Europe comes in stark contrast to how they have fared in the Bundesliga, however. They have managed to prevail in just one match in the league, albeit against Bayern Munich 2-1, and have picked up just eight points overall. Only four sides sit below them in the table and, perhaps most worryingly, they have already failed to pick up victories against two of them.

On Saturday, they face another in VfL Bochum. The loss of André Silva has, unsurprisingly, heavily impacted Oliver Glasner’s side, especially with Rafael Santos Borré failing to prove anywhere near as lethal as the now-RB Leipzig forward he was signed to replace. He was on the scoresheet against Olympiacos, although that goal did come from the penalty spot, and that may just be the confidence boost he needs to kickstart his season. That is what Glasner will be hoping, anyway – he cannot afford many more setbacks if he wants to start climbing the table.

3 | Can Borussia Dortmund cope without Erling Haaland?

Following the departure of Jadon Sancho to Manchester United during the summer transfer window, the onus is on Erling Haaland more than ever to carry this Borussia Dortmund side. So far, he has done so admirably, scoring 13 goals in 10 games this term, but on the few occasions he does not perform, such as during BVB’s 4-0 defeat to Ajax in the Champions League on Tuesday, it shows in the results.

This weekend, Marco Rose will be without his star man, as is the case for the next few weeks after confirmation that the Norway international has a hip flexor injury. This is a nightmare for Dortmund for two reasons – firstly, the mere absence of Haaland weakens them significantly and, secondly, with Youssoufa Moukoko suffering from an injury himself, they do not have a natural replacement.

All of this means the pressure is on Rose for Dortmund’s trip to Arminia Bielefeld this weekend. As it stands, the ‘Schwarzgelben’ are just one point behind Bundesliga leaders Bayern, and they will be eager to remain in touch with the 30-time champions at least until the two face off at the start of December. To do that, they must beat teams like Bielefeld, so Rose’s conundrum is how to solve a problem like no Haaland?

4 | Can Wolfsburg stop the rot against Freiburg?

Mark van Bommel could hardly have hoped for a better start to his spell as Wolfsburg manager, winning his first five games in all competitions. After seven matches without a win, though, the honeymoon period is well and truly over, and the doubters who questioned his appointment after Oliver Glasner’s departure are currently being proved correct.

Defensively, they remain solid, conceding more than just five other sides in their opening eight league matches. At the other end of the pitch, though, they are struggling to make an impact – no other team in the top 10 have been less prolific in front of goal than the ‘Wölfe’. The loss of Wout Weghorst, who ironically tested positive for coronavirus this week after previously airing his COVID scepticism, for this weekend’s clash with Freiburg makes van Bommel’s task even harder.

Incredibly, Freiburg are the only unbeaten side in the division this term and, with six goals conceded, they also possess the best defensive record. Weghorst is his side’s top scorer with four goals in all competitions this season – with three strikes to his name, it will now be up to Lukas Nmecha to lead the line and, on form, there are few tougher tasks he could face.

5 | Hertha BSC can overtake Gladbach with a win

Hertha’s victory against Frankfurt last weekend was vital for Pál Dárdai. It was the Berlin outfit’s third win of the Bundesliga campaign, but they would have remained in the relegation play-off spot without it. Most worryingly, the Herthaner looked to be lacking cohesion and leadership before that fixture, traits which are not always easy to introduce.

That result moves them up to 13th, just two points behind this week’s opponents Borussia Mönchengladbach. Having poached Adi Hütter from Frankfurt to replace Marco Rose, Max Eberl and co will have hoped for a strong campaign and a return to European football. As it is, they have so far been riddled with inconsistency, and they can hardly argue with the 10th place they currently occupy.

A win for Hertha this weekend, therefore, would see them move above the ‘Fohlen’ in the Bundesliga table. They will have to improve on their record at the Olympiastadion, where they have won just three points in four games, but it is worth noting Hertha were unbeaten in two outings versus Gladbach last season. Therefore, on Saturday, they can show they are on the right track under Dárdai and sporting director Fredi Bobic.

Jon Radcliffe

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