This might be a Revierderby contested with two poorer manifestations of Borussia Dortmund and FC Schalke, but it still matters.
Described as ‘the mother of all derbies’, Germany’s ‘biggest local power struggle in football’, Franz Beckenbauer once summed it up by saying ‘the heart of German football beats in the Rhur’.
Schalke and Dortmund have rich histories – both founding members of Bundesliga over sixty years ago – both have loyal and passionate fan bases arising from the coal and steel industries of the Ruhr Valley and both are situated next to each other, the cities of Gelsenkirchen and Dortmund a mere 20 miles apart.
Schalke and Dortmund are two of the most prestigious ‘sporting clubs’ in Germany with rich histories of success ranging from the ‘Schalker Kreisel’ early style of tika-taka football exhibited by Schalke in the 20s, to Borussia Dortmund eventually dominating the power balance in the Rhur surpassing Schalke’s record of seven titles, the BlackYellows taking their eighth German Championship under Jurgen Klopp back in 2012.
Rivalry runs deep and the flames of passion are long. Arrive on the Rhur locals will be quick to work out whether you’re Black and Yellow or Royal Blue. The club’s sets of supporters don’t even refer to each other – Schalke are disparagingly called ‘Herne-West’, Dortmund are merely titled ‘Lüdenscheid-Nord’.
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Disappointing recent times for both
There is a healthy respect between the sides. Schalke and Dortmund have come together in the past. Schalke helped Dortmund out financially when the Black Yellows were almost bankrupt by the building of Signal Aduna Park in the 70s, and both sides celebrated each others victories in 1997, the year each side brought back a European trophy – the Champions League (Dortmund) and Uefa Cup (Schalke).
The fans may come together now as both their clubs face pretty perilous situations.
For Schalke the entire season has been a horror show.
When the sides first met in matchday five Schalke had already lost three of their opening four matches, including an 8-0 drubbing by Bayern Munich.
The Royal Blues went on to lose the first derby of the season 3-0 to Dortmund and since then have showed no signs of resurgence.
Schalke are rock bottom of Bundesliga, nine points from safety. The Blues have only won one game this season and conceded 52 goals in twenty-one matches – an average of 2.5 goals conceded a game.
What hasn’t helped cure the Blues’ plight is their constant state of transition. Schalke have gone through three managers this season since former Huddersfield Town boss David Wagner was given his marching orders after just two games of Bundesliga 2020/21.
Manuel Baum then club legend Hubb Stevens came in before former Tottenham boss Christian Gross was given the reins at the Veltins-Arena.
Gross hasn’t made a great start, losing six of his opening eight matches.
It might sound almost as if there’s no point in Schalke turning up on Saturday with the form they are in, however rivals Dortmund are not fairing much better in pursuit of their respective goals.
The Black Yellows were supposed to be title contenders to Bayern Munich led by the explosive Erling Haaland, however Dortmund have collapsed.
The Black Yellows sacked experienced coach Lucien Favre after a 5-1 drubbing at home to Stuttgart in matchday 11 and replaced the Swiss with his assistant Edin Terzic.
Terzic has not done much to change the fortunes of the club, winning just over half his games in charge. In fact Terzic has a lower points per game percentage than Favre having picked up just over 50 per cent of points on offer.
For Schalke it really is looking like they will have at least a season in Bundesliga 2, whilst Dortmund could rally.
There’s still time for the Black Yellows to make the Champions League spots – currently six points off them in sixth – and they seem to be trying to drill some stability back into the club, recently announcing that Gladbach’s Marco Rose will be the new head coach at Signal Aduna Park next season – a man known to have a good working relationship with Haaland having given the Norwegian his debut when they worked together at Salzburg.
Whatever the future holds it won’t concern Saturday evening. Failures will be forgotten – successes might be gloated about – but all that will matter for ninety minutes is what happens on the pitch.
Schalke vs Borussia Dortmund, Bundesliga Matchday 22, Saturday Feb 20th, KO 17:30 GMT.