BERLIN: Borussia Dortmund midfielder Thomas Delaney has warned his team to take nothing for granted in Saturday’s high-stakes derby at home to struggling rivals Schalke.
The two grand old clubs from Germany’s industrial Ruhr region meet for the 154th time in a competitive match on Saturday, with both of them under pressure to pick up three points.
While Dortmund need a win to keep the heat on league leaders Bayern Munich in the title race, Schalke could all but secure Bundesliga survival with victory in the derby.
Just 35km separates the two teams geographically, but they are worlds apart in footballing terms this season, with Dortmund in second and Schalke in 15th.
Yet Danish midfielder Delaney has warned that the table means nothing on derby day.
“The derby has a life of its own, so where we are in the table doesn’t mean anything,” he said on Thursday.
On form alone, Dortmund are clear favourites. Schalke have won only once away from home this season – against bottom club Hanover – while Dortmund are yet to lose at home.
While Delaney and co. wrapped up a confidence-boosting 4-0 win in Freiburg last week, Schalke were thrashed 5-2 by Hoffenheim. Nonetheless, the Dane is expecting an “intense” game.
“It probably won’t be the most attractive game. I don’t think we are going to win 9-2,” he said.
Dortmund coach Lucien Favre has said that there is no extra pressure on Dortmund in the derby.
“The pressure is always there. We want to win this important game,” he said on Thursday.
‘I can’t speak honestly’
Favre’s opposite number Huub Stevens, meanwhile, claimed that both sides were feeling the heat.
“We can’t pretend otherwise: they are playing for the title, and we are fighting for something else,” the veteran Dutch coach said on Thursday.
“We are both under pressure, but they have positive pressure.”
Schalke are six points clear of the bottom three and could effectively guarantee survival with a win against Dortmund.
Yet Stevens’ preparations for the derby have been overshadowed by disciplinary issues.
The interim coach has banished Nabil Bentaleb to the reserve team for the second time this season after the Algerian midfielder missed a pre-training German lesson on Wednesday.
“I’m sorry for Nabil, but I did what I had to do. The team is still the most important thing,” said the coach.
Stevens, who was charged with guiding Schalke to safety when he took over from Domenico Tedesco last month, also suggested that there were fundamental problems with the team.
“I cannot talk about everything honestly,” he said.
“Maybe I will be able to one day, either internally or publically. I don’t know.”
Despite Schalke’s woes this season, there is little schadenfreude from their old rivals, and Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc said this week that he hopes Schalke stay up.
“We think it is good if this rivalry can continue in the top flight,” he said.
Dortmund themselves remain focused on the title race, in which they remain just a single point behind leaders Bayern.
Hopes that Bayern will slip up may have to be put on ice for at least a week or two. The reigning champions travel to second-from-bottom Nuremberg on Sunday before hosting crisis-ridden Hanover the following weekend.
Bayern are also in ferocious form, having scored 18 goals in their last five games.
“It isn’t in our hands, we just have to try to win all our games,” said Delaney on Thursday.
“Bayern are doing everything right at the moment.”