Get to Know Dortmund-Schalke, The Massive Rivalry That Will Usher in the Return of Soccer

The Revierderby is the perfect match to bring the Bundesliga back to life

May 9, 2020 5:21 pm
Dortmund Schalke Bundesliga
Supporters of Borussia Dortmund are seen during the Bundesliga match between FC Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund on October 26, 2019.
TF-Images/Getty Images

It’s happening: a major European soccer league is returning to action after the coronavirus pandemic put the continent’s top sport on ice. The Bundesliga, Germany’s first division, will be returning to the pitch on May 16 with a full slate of games, all taking place under strict safety guidelines in empty stadiums. Luckily for the league, the first match of the weekend will also be the best and most intriguing, as second-place Borussia Dortmund takes on its blood rivals, sixth-place Schalke, in the acrimonious Revierderby.

As is the case of most passionate derbys — aka rivalries — in Europe, the animosity of the Revierderby comes from distance. Dortmund and Gelsenkirchen (the city Schalke calls home) are separated by a mere 20 miles in the industrial heartland of Ruhr. This is a brother-vs-brother blood feud, one so volatile that fans of each club don’t even mention the other’s name. Instead, each club is designated by their location in relation to a neighboring town: Dortmund becomes Lüdenscheid-Nord for Schalke fans, while the black-and-yellow supporters call their royal-blue neighbors Herne-West. This is no joke.

And though the wild fans — some of Europe’s most notorious — won’t be in attendance, the action on the field often delivers on the hype when it comes this particular fixture. While the all-time series leans towards Schalke (they have 60 wins and Dortmund has 52, with 43 draws also hanging in the balance), it has been significantly more competitive in recent years, as both clubs have been regulars in the top third of the Bundesliga standings. And when these two clubs meet late in the season, as they will on May 16, the matches usually have title implications.

The most famous of those matches occurred just last season; hosting Schalke at the Westfalenstadion, Dortmund needed a win to keep pace with league juggernaut Bayern Munich. They resoundingly did not: Two red cards early in the second half doomed the black-and-yellow, as their rivals walked out of the hostile environment with a 4-2 victory that sank Dortmund’s title hopes. You can bet that the Schalke fans enjoyed that last part almost as much as the three points.

Despite the last meeting, on October 26 of 2019, ending in a 0-0 draw, the Revierderby does have a history of wild, high-scoring matches. A 2017 classic saw Schalke come back from a 4-0 deficit to seal a 4-4 draw. That comeback was a microcosm for both clubs’ 2017-2018 season: Dortmund ended up barely scraping fourth place and a Champions League qualification, while Schalke finished second in the league, miles behind champion Bayern but, more importantly, 8 points up on its rivals.

So, with the recent history out of the way, how will Saturday’s match play out? Dortmund has been as good as anyone in Germany this season, and though form probably doesn’t matter with the two-month layoff, they do come into the game having won their last four matches. They also play a brand of quick-strike soccer that can make their games feel like they’re on amphetamines, and among their coterie of flashy attackers is Gio Reyna, the 17-year-old American midfielder and son of former USMNT star Claudio Reyna. The younger Reyna has impressed on his own accord since being called up to the National team, and he also scored this beauty against Werder Bremen in the German cup earlier this year:

Schalke, on the other hand, is 14 points back of its rivals and barely clinging to the final qualification spot for the Europa League, the continent’s secondary club competition. Their form prior to the shutdown was poor; just one win in four games, with two losses on top of that. Perhaps the layoff does them more good than Dortmund, and there’s no doubt that the royal blues will amp up for the derby. Die Königsblauen have an American of their own in midfielder Weston McKennie, who has been a steady hand for them for nearly half a decade now.

Given that Dortmund is home and they were playing at a higher level prior to the shutdown, you’d give them the edge, but this isn’t a normal home game. There will be none of the rabid fans that form the Yellow Wall in attendance, and even with that in mind, the club did lose the last Revierderby at the Westfalenstadion. Winning will mean keeping pace with Bayern Munich, current league leaders by four points, but anything goes in this clash of neighbors. The one thing we can safely promise is that the action will be end-to-end, tempers will flare (particularly with two months’ of pent-up aggression in the tank), and someone will write a new chapter in the lore of Germany’s finest local rivalry.

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