With the 'Klassiker' clash against rival Bayern Munich on the horizon, Borussia Dortmund wants to avoid a loss of focus against Cologne on Sunday with a title on the line.
While Dortmund has had its share of woes against better teams in recent years, the club's title challenges has truly come undone in poor performances against the league's outmatched but spirited underdogs. Led by pugnacious manager Steffen Baumgart, often seen on the sideline sporting just a flat cap and a T-shirt in the German winter chill, no club embodies the underdog spirit more than Cologne.
Dortmund has stuttered after its barnstorming start to 2023 of 10 wins in 10 matches came to an end with a 2-0 defeat at Chelsea that eliminated the club from the Champions League. That loss was followed by a 2-2 draw at struggling Schalke, as an outgunned but dogged home team equalized twice.
A return to winning ways by Dortmund on Saturday would lift them a point ahead of Bayern Munich atop the Bundesliga standings, for at least one night. Bayern travels to Xabi Alonso's unpredictable Bayer Leverkusen on Sunday.
Dortmund's next match after Cologne is against Bayern. Dortmund has not won a league match in Munich since the 2013-14 season, when Jurgen Klopp was still in charge, one reason the team has been a perennial Bundesliga runner-up since its last title in 2012.
When Dortmund visited Cologne in October, the team had a chance to claim first place, but lost 3-2 despite taking an early lead. That result was in Dortmund manager Edin Terzic's mind on Thursday when he said "we have been warned enough" about Cologne.
Cologne is on a run of poor form but know another positive result against a title challenger could put them back on track. After starting 2023 on a five-match unbeaten run, including a draw at Bayern, Cologne has lost three of its past four games without scoring, giving rise to fears the 12th-placed team may be drawn into a relegation battle. Baumgart said his team partied a little too hard during Cologne's famous Carnival celebrations in February and is paying the price.
"I don't want to offend anyone, but I have now had my experience with the carnival," the manager, who joined Cologne during the Covid pandemic, said on Thursday. "That wasn't good for us. In the future, I will try and do things differently."
One to watch: Benjamin Pavard (Bayern Munich)
The French defender's recent turnaround has mirrored that of his club, which now sits two points clear at the top of the Bundesliga. Bayern stumbled after the winter break but has now reestablished its dominance in the league and in Europe.
After scoring his second goal in Bayern's 5-3 win over Augsburg — his first two-goal game in professional soccer — Pavard faced the stands and tapped his badge, a sight unthinkable in January when rumors swirled that the World Cup winner wanted out.
Pavard confirmed his commitment in early March, saying Bayern "can achieve great things this season" and "I'm not leaving the ship in the middle of the journey."
Friday: Borussia Moenchengladbach vs Werder Bremen
Saturday: Augsburg vs Schalke, Hoffenheim vs Hertha Berlin, Stuttgart vs Wolfsburg, Bochum vs RB Leipzig, Borussia Dortmund vs Cologne
Sunday: Union Berlin vs Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayer Leverkusen vs Bayern Munich, Mainz vs Freiburg
© Agence France-Presse