Dortmund's defence determining factor in midweek duel vs. Wolfsburg
Borussia Dortmund have little time to rest on their laurels after consecutive 6-0 dismantlings of Legia Warsaw in the Champions League and Darmstadt in the Bundesliga, as they find themselves in the middle of a jam-packed schedule that includes seven matches in 21 days.
On Tuesday night, the Black and Yellows go up against eighth-place VfL Wolfsburg, who are unbeaten in their opening three Bundesliga games, at the Volkswagen Arena.
The midweek fixture should provide more answers to the pressing question of where the Ruhr side stand after thrashing their previous opponents by six goals each, but the uninspired 1-0 defeat to Leipzig on the second matchday of the Bundesliga season still lingers in the back of everyone's mind.
"The upcoming matches will give us a better idea of how competitive we are," said coach Thomas Tuchel in his news conference on Monday ahead of the triple-header against Wolfsburg, Freiburg and Real Madrid.
He still felt upbeat about his side after big wins, despite having played against inferior opposition.
"We showed two all-around successful performances," said the Dortmund boss. "We have made the most out of the favourites' tag. We don't want to play that down."
And he fully intends for his team to keep their impressive impetus up against Wolfsburg. "We want to show courage, maintain our tempo and keep up our desire to score and defend."
However, he will again have to make do without Andre Schurrle. The 25-year-old will be unavailable against his former side due to a knee injury after twisting it ahead of the Legia match.
Also failing to make the trip to Wolfsburg are Sven Bender and Nuri Sahin. Bender has yet to train with the team after picking up an injury in the semifinal at Rio 2016 and playing 120 minutes in the final against Brazil at the Maracana, delaying his comeback for a couple more weeks. Sahin, meanwhile, is fit to play, but the Dortmund manager prefers versatile players who offer more options, like Matthias Ginter, in his matchday squad.
The main reason for Sahin's lack of playing time is 21-year-old Julian Weigl, who has already made himself indispensable in Dortmund's midfield by giving his side structure and stability. But there's more bad news for Sahin in the form of Portuguese international Raphael Guerreiro, who has had a massive impact in only two starts.
The 22-year-old showed intelligent positioning, nifty dribbles and flashy passes against both Darmstadt and Legia, reminiscent of current Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan.
Guerreiro can impress with his irresistible set-piece delivery and impeccable shooting technique, as is evident in the fact that he has scored once and been involved in half of BVB's 12 goals in one way or another.
Unsurprisingly, Tuchel was asked by journalists on Monday when it was exactly that he discovered Guerreiro's ability to play more centrally as opposed to solely in the left-back position (where he played at Ligue 1 club Lorient and with the Portuguese national team), to which he replied: "Raph is way too good, way too smart and way too versatile to be pigeonholed for one position. That became evident quickly when we saw him train on the pitch."
Guerreiro could be the long-term answer to Dortmund's creative problems upfront, which were present in the club's first matches against Mainz and Leipzig. He must reaffirm this sentiment when teaming up with reinvigorated Mario Gotze in midfield on Tuesday.
Against the Wolves, Tuchel's men do not have the luxury of solely focusing on their attacking prowess. Wolfsburg's scoreless draw against Hoffenheim may be deceiving, as they wasted a plethora of promising opportunities.
Dortmund's back line is likely to be bullied by the likes of Julian Draxler, Mario Gomez and especially former BVB player Jakub Blaszczykowski, who will want to show his former club what they missed out on when they put the hatchet to eight years at the club in August. Tellingly enough, "Kuba" captained Dieter Hecking's side on the weekend.
One of the key matchups will be Marc Bartra against the physical Gomez. The former Barcelona centre-back has big boots to fill after former captain Mats Hummels left for Bayern Munich.
His passing game looked to be of the same category as of his predecessor in Dortmund's first two matches of the season, but since then Bartra's build-up play has taken a nosedive and he has been guilty of committing positional errors, which could prove costly against Wolfsburg's dangerous front three.
If Dortmund want to continue their positive trend, their defence has to match the attacking department against Wolfsburg. If they don't, the likes of Bartra might become the target of closer scrutiny and the 12-goal-sized momentum would be diminished one week before Madrid arrive at the Westfalenstadion.
Stefan Buczko covers Borussia Dortmund for ESPN FC. Twitter: @StefanBuczko.