Borussia Dortmund take on Bundesliga title rivals and champions Bayern Munich at the Signal Iduna Park on Tuesday evening, and for striker Erling Haaland, the match will represent another key career milestone.
Haaland only arrived in Germany in the January transfer window but has scored 10 goals in as many Bundesliga games, hitting 13 out of 13 in all competitions. The towering Norwegian is regarded as one of the most exciting young talents in the European game but his character will be put to the test this week.
Although his side eased to a fairly comfortable 2-0 win away to Wolfsburg on Saturday, the striker put in a largely anonymous performance, with one of his few contributions being to miss the ball that allowed Raphaël Guerreiro to pick-up the pieces of his error at the far post and open the scoring.
Despite having the luxury of five substitutions available to him, manager Lucien Favre opted to leave Haaland on the field for the duration of the match, even though his frustration was becoming increasingly obvious as he played little part in the victory that kept the pressure on league leaders Bayern Munich.
However, it was notable that Guerreiro, Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard were all replaced as Favre tentatively began to show his hand towards the highly-anticipated Der Klassiker against Bayern Munich. The game management of Favre suggests that Haaland could be sacrificed for Tuesday's crucial match in the Bundesliga title race.
There are many elements for Favre to consider ahead of the match, and they all point to Borussia Dortmund having to make a key change to their tactical approach. Bayern Munich currently hold a four-point lead following their 5-2 win over Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday evening, and their response to their Dortmund rivals' victory earlier in the afternoon was a clear statement of intent.
The challenge of the champions
Despite a second-half scare when Martin Hinteregger scored twice in as many minutes for the visitors, Bayern Munich remained in complete control of the match and the result at the Allianz Arena was never really in doubt. They head into Tuesday's match with the psychological and statistical advantage, and it is a match that Borussia Dortmund must now win.
Therefore, relegating Haaland to the bench may seem counter-productive, but it is likely to be the only way that Favre will enable his side to compete against Bayern Munich in the decisive midfield area. Borussia Dortmund rely on pace and rotation in their fluid attack but their forwards will need to work tirelessly in deeper positions to create those vital chances.
This is a unique game for Borussia Dortmund and they will need a different approach to beat Bayern Munich than what would usually prove sufficient against other opponents in the Bundesliga. For this reason, numerical superiority in midfield will be crucial and Haaland does not effectively fit in this tactical shift.
However, Haaland will have a vital part to play from the bench. It is a must-win match for Borussia Dortmund, and if they can keep themselves in contention heading into the last third of the game, they can afford to resort to a more familiar system and take the risks necessary to win. This is Haaland's domain and this is why Der Klassiker will be the first real test of his character.
Focus despite frustration
Still just 19 years of age, Haaland struggled to keep his focus on Saturday as his frustration got the better of him. He is a player who is used to playing a key part in the success of his team, and how he reacts to Favre's potential tactical shift will be of huge interest.
However, we did see the best of Haaland the weekend before as he returned to action with the opening goal in the convincing 4-0 win over Schalke 04. This was the sort of environment in which Haaland can truly shine, as the lack of any real competition from a lacklustre opposition allowed Borussia Dortmund to push forward in numbers and play to their true strengths.
Even if Haaland does start on Tuesday, his reaction to his performance last weekend when he comes up against a quality opponent like Bayern Munich will also say a lot about his maturity. These are challenges that he is yet to face, and while his ability is not in question, his mentality when things don't go his way has not been tested.
The success of Borussia Dortmund this season has been built upon the youthful exuberance of their forward players, but taking that approach into a game against an in-form Bayern Munich in a must-win match would be a brave call. The Bavarians are expected to bring Serge Gnabry back into the starting line-up, knowing that a victory will move them a lot closer to the title.
The must-win match of the season
The dynamic style of Bayern Munich will see them test Borussia Dortmund from wide positions, and preventing their midfield creativity will be crucial. Jadon Sancho is expected to make his first start for the home side since Bundesliga action resumed, but his value on Tuesday will depend on his efficiency to defend from the top rather than for his attacking attributes.
Taking his performance on Saturday into consideration, Haaland has played into Favre's hands and has offered his manager a justifiable reason to drop him for what will be one of the defining games of the current campaign. The challenge for Favre, if he does make the change, will be to ensure he can trust his striker to deliver when the time is right.Published 24 May 2020, 18:20 IST