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European battle adds spice to fiery Leipzig-Dortmund clash

football26 April 2024 03:58| Β© AFP
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Amadou Haidara and Salih Γ–zcan Β© Getty Images

RB Leipzig host Borussia Dortmund on Saturday with possible Champions League qualification at stake in what has become one of the Bundesliga's bitterest rivalries in recent years.

Fourth-placed Leipzig sit two points clear of Dortmund in fifth, with only the top four clubs guaranteed Champions League football next season – although Germany may snare a fifth spot in the new Uefa qualification system thanks to strong European performances.

The rivalry between the sides has been fierce ever since Leipzig were first promoted in 2016.

At Leipzig's first match in Dortmund, the famous Yellow Wall unveiled a banner calling the Red Bull-owned newcomers "the shame of the league", while around 2 000 fans marched through the city before the game in protest.

Both sides' claims to being the next best after Bayern Munich were dealt a blow by Bayer Leverkusen's stunning title run this season, but Leipzig and Dortmund can still be regarded as next in line for the throne.

Since Leipzig were promoted to the first division ahead of the 2016-17 season, only once has neither finished second behind Bayern.

Schalke, now in the second tier, finished runners-up in 2017/18, with Dortmund coming second four times and Leipzig twice in that time.

Other than Bayern, Leipzig, and Dortmund – both Champions League regulars – have performed best in Europe's premier competition.

Leipzig made the Champions League semifinals in 2019-20 and Dortmund are through to the last four this season.

Speaking with AFP and other media on Thursday, Leipzig striker Benjamin Sesko said his side were raring to go.

"I always look at each game like it's my last.

"But in this situation, you know what you're playing for. For me, it's not even pressure, it's more motivation.

"In the week before that game, it's really hard to wait."

Leverkusen have already won the Bundesliga title and will look to keep their unbeaten record intact when they host third-placed Stuttgart on Saturday.

Xabi Alonso's side have just four games to go to become the first to go through a Bundesliga season without losing.

Bayern host Eintracht Frankfurt and will seek to avenge the 5-1 drubbing they suffered in December.

The loss was Bayern's first league defeat of the season, after which the cracks in outgoing coach Thomas Tuchel's side were laid bare.

ONE TO WATCH: Benjamin Sesko

Still in his first season with the club, RB Leipzig striker Benjamin Sesko has found form, scoring in each of his past three matches.

The 20-year-old Sesko, who moved from sister club Red Bull Salzburg, said he needed time to adjust to the speed of the German league.

"I had to get used to the level. I think I'm getting better and better," said the Slovenia international.

"The speed of the game is very fast. Your movement has to be different... all this kind of stuff comes together in the end."

KEY STATS

80 - Champions Bayer Leverkusen have 80 points with four games remaining. The all-time record, set by Bayern Munich in 2012-13, is 91.

0 - No team has ever gone through a Bundesliga season unbeaten.

17 - Despite winning their first match since October with a 2-0 victory over Cologne on Saturday, Darmstadt have just 17 points and could be relegated this weekend.

FIXTURES

Friday

Bochum v Hoffenheim

Saturday

Augsburg v Werder Bremen

Freiburg v Wolfsburg

Bayern Munich v Eintracht Frankfurt

RB Leipzig v Borussia Dortmund

Bayer Leverkusen v Stuttgart

Sunday

Borussia Moenchengladbach v Union Berlin

Mainz v Cologne (1530)

Darmstadt v Heidenheim

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