BERLIN: Borussia Dortmund can take a significant first step towards breaking Bayern Munich’s stranglehold on the Bundesliga title by beating Werder Bremen on Saturday to become ‘Herbstmeister’, or autumn champions.
Dortmund are seven points clear in the table and a home win over Bremen at Signal Iduna Park will confirm them as the top side in the first half of the Bundesliga season which ends when the winter break starts on December 23.
The unofficial title carries neither a trophy nor prize money, but 38 of the last 55 Herbstmeisters went on to became German champions.
More significantly for the Bundesliga, Dortmund are set to finally break Bayern’s monopoly on the honorary title they have won for each of the last seven seasons.
Dortmund are on a five-match Bundesliga winning streak and coach Lucien Favre said he was more interested in picking up a maximum nine points from their strenuous schedule of three league games in just six days than winning the title of autumn champions in his first season at Dortmund.
After hosting Bremen, Dortmund travel to bottom side Fortuna Duesseldorf on Tuesday, then host second-placed Borussia Moenchengladbach a week on Friday in a tough finish to 2018.
“We have three games in six days and it doesn’t do much good to talk about anything else other than our next match — full focus on Bremen,” said Favre tersely, when asked what it would mean to be autumn champions in his first season at Dortmund.
The club’s sports director Michael Zorc continued the theme, saying: “It’s a title which has no meaning and we haven’t achieved it yet, so it’s not something which currently concerns us.”
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Of more pressing concern is the fact midfielder Nuri Sahin, a product of Dortmund’s academy who joined Werder in August, has been giving Bremen tips on how to beat the leaders.
“Of course we have talked about Dortmund,” Bremen coach Florian Kohfeldt said with a grin.
The midfielder’s return to Signal Iduna Park also gives Dortmund a chance to bid farewell to the 30-year-old who spent nine seasons with them and won the 2011 Bundesliga title.
“He well deserves it and we will use the opportunity to say goodbye on Saturday,” added Zorc.
Favre made 10 changes from the team which beat Schalke 2-1 away last Saturday in the Bundesliga from the side which won 2-0 at Monaco on Tuesday in the Champions League and a raft of changes are expected again.
In-form stars like club captain Marco Reus, striker Paco Alacer, wingers Jacob Bruun Larsen and Jadon Sancho are expected to face Bremen.
Fresh from their thrilling 3-3 draw at Ajax, which confirmed their passage into the last 16 of the Champions League as group winners, third-placed Bayern are at second-from-bottom Hanover on Saturday again looking to close the nine-point gap behind Dortmund.
The defending champions have stopped rotating their squad, but Thiago Alcantara, who won a penalty at Ajax, and Kingsley Coman, who scored Bayern’s third goal off the bench, are both pushing for starting places following injury.
Second-placed Borussia Moenchengladbach are without four key players at Hoffenheim, where they need a win to stay in the title race and stay two points ahead of Bayern, but trail Dortmund by seven.
Swiss midfielder Denis Zakaria is suspended after a fifth yellow card this season while the key trio of Christoph Kramer, Matthias Ginter and Jonas Hoffmann are all injured.
“Hoffenheim are one of the top teams in Germany, but we will travel there with confidence,” said Gladbach coach Dieter Hecking.
“Now other players have their chance to face a strong opponent.” —AFP