DORTMUND, GERMANY - OCTOBER 01: Robert Lewandowski of Dortmund celebrates the first goal during the Bundesliga match between Borussia Dortmund and FC Ausgburg at Signal Iduna Park on October 1, 2011 in Dortmund, Germany. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Werder Bremen and Borussia Dortmund play one of the best matches of the weekend in Europe as the two teams fight to keep pace with Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga
At present, Bayern Munich look like the best team in the Bundesliga and one of the best teams in the world. Even with Arjen Robben's numerous injury worries, the rest of the Bayern attack is potent enough that everyone else is currently an underdog. Recent years in the Bundesliga tell us that their position is never set in stone, though, and their should be challengers. Two of those challengers are second placed Werder Bremen and defending champions Borussia Dortmund, who face off on Friday.
Der BVB are still within striking distance of the top of the table in fifth, but they've gotten off to a tough start in the league. Lucas Barrios' injury and the sale of Nuri Sahin have affected the team, but if their result against Augsburg from two weeks ago is any indication, they're starting to get over both losses.
Not that Augsburg are a particularly great team, but after a number of lackluster results, BVB fans will have been extremely happy with their 4-0 victory. Young Ilkay Gundogan was re-instated in Sahin's spot in the starting lineup with Sven Bender coming back as well, while Robert Lewandowski netted a hat trick. Barrios is back and will boost the team, but they will continue to need Lewandowski this season. Barrios is almost back to full fitness and it's unclear whether he or Lewandowski will start.
In other injury news, Marcel Schmelzer is doubtful for the match. Schmeltzer is one of the best left backs in Germany, and while Chris Löwe is a suitable backup, there is a drop-off in quality. Dortmund play in Champions League in mid-week and are in need of a win, so Schmeltzer is expected to be rested so that he can be fully fit to face Olympiacos on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Werder has been spurred on by the resurgence of Claudio Pizarro and a defense that has actually improved dramatically in a post-Per Mertesacker world. However, some cracks in the armor were exposed in their final match before the international break, as Hannover defeated them 3-2 thanks to an absolutely brilliant performance by Mohammed Abdellaoue, who netted a hat trick.
Werder will be without suspended forward Marko Arnautovic in this game, which could necessitate a change in formation for long-time coach Thomas Schaaf. Last season, he frequently used Marko Marin and Aaron Hunt almost as duel trequaristas in a 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree formation, to mixed success. Young Mehmet Ekici can play as an advanced midfielder behind a striker as well, while both Hunt and Marin are adept as wingers, so Schaaf could also attempt to match Dortmund like for like on formation with a 4-2-3-1.
If Friday's game produces a winner, Bayern Munich is going to have to take that team extremely seriously as a title contender. Meanwhile, the opposite will probably be the case for the loser, who will have to seriously re-evaluate what kind of team they are going forward. This Bundesliga season doesn't feel like a wide-open three or four-horse race. It's likely going to be Bayern, a dark horse, and everybody else.
Werder Bremen vs. Borussia Dortmund
Game Date/Time: Friday, October 14, 2:30 pm ET (8:30 pm local)
Venue: Weserstadion, Bremen, Germany
TV: GolTV (USA and Canada), ESPN (UK)
Projected Werder Bremen lineup (4-2-3-1): Mielitz; Ingjovski, Wolf, Prodl, Papastathopoulos; Bargfrede, Fritz; Hunt, Ekici, Marin; Pizarro
Projected Borussia Dortmund lineup (4-2-3-1): Weidenfeller; Löwe, Subotic, Hummels, Piszczek; Bender, Gundogan; Grosskreutz, Kagawa, Götze; Barrios