Tuchel, Dortmund short-handed for trip to bottom Darmstadt

"The tactical aspect might not play as big of a role as the mental aspect," Thomas Tuchel told Friday's news conference ahead of Borussia Dortmund's trip to Bundesliga bottom side SV Darmstadt.

It was Tuchel's way of saying that the opposition is not to be underestimated. Darmstadt are the epitome of a trap game, as 17 other Bundesliga sides are secretly adding in all six points against the league minnows over the course of the season.

With their last win dating back to October, the Hessians are stuck in the second-season blues. After coach Dirk Schuster, who brought the Lilies up to Germany's top-flight, and star striker Sandro Wagner left in the summer for greener pastures in Augsburg and Hoffenheim, their outlook of staying up was always grim. Darmstadt currently sit seven points adrift from safety, with Bundesliga survival seeming to be an impossible task for newly appointed manager Torsten Frings, who succeeded Schuster's initial replacement Norbert Meier at the end of December.

Under Schuster, Darmstadt took kick-and-rush to the extreme, which made their games look like a stoppage-time scrap of a lower-league team desperate to hold on to a slim lead in a cup tie against a towering favourite. It didn't look pretty, but it kept them in the league against all odds.

This season, the Lilies have raised their pass completion rate from 55.4 percent last campaign to 62.1 percent this season -- which is far from being close to anything related to possession based football, but shows that Darmstadt have become less radical about their approach -- possibly a mistake in hindsight.

Against Dortmund, however, chances are the home side will resort to their tactics of recent seasons, playing with six at the back for large durations of the game.

After Wednesday's 120-minute-long war of attrition against Hertha BSC in the DFB-Pokal and an equally straining match against RB Leipzig last weekend, Tuchel is forced to make changes to his team. Besides the injured Nuri Sahin, Sven Bender, Sebastian Rode and Mario Gotze; Ousmane Dembele, Lukasz Piszczek and Marcel Schmelzer have all picked up knocks and bruises and won't be available for Saturday. There is also a question mark next to Marco Reus, who picked up a knock on his pelvis.

"Tuesday's Champions League match against Benfica will have zero influence on Saturday's lineup", the Dortmund coach said, adding: "We will pick the best possible eleven."

A statement that has proved to be somewhat misleading in the past, the Dortmund coach could still opt for a rotated side that has a higher chance of winning in his mind due to the fresher legs. In general, it would not be wise for Tuchel to -- at least publicly -- look any further than the next league match, as his team is still separated by a point to targeted third place.

With the necessary depth at hand, however, there is also little need for Tuchel to risk his key players against opposition that will fight for their place in the league with resoluteness.

It could mean the first start for Emre Mor since early November, as the Turkish youngster's ability to beat his markers in one-on-ones is an asset in games, where space is at a premium stock. The likes of Shinji Kagawa will be equally keen to return from the fringes.

At least for now, it seems as though Marc Bartra has saved his spot next to Sokratis Papastathopoulos. The Spanish centre-back had trouble finding form after an injury sustained on Matchday 4 tarnished what had been an impressive start in a Dortmund shirt.

Bartra managed to impress in recent games against RB Leipzig and Hertha BSC in league and cup -- returning to form just in time for Darmstadt one might say, where a ball-playing central defender can be instrumental to finding an opening.

The Spaniard's quite literal forward-thinking has been described as precious by his coach on Friday, as Tuchel said: "There is an element of wildness in Marc, who likes to dribble past two players and play the assist with his forward bursts to light up the stadium."

For Dortmund, it is vital that one of Matthias Ginter or Bartra can preserve his form for a longer stretch to guarantee consistency in personnel at the heart of defence -- something neither has managed to do thus far this season as the already extensive blooper reel would suggest.

With Bayer Leverkusen defender Omer Toprak arriving for €12m in the summer, and Sven Bender eventually returning to fitness, the centre-back position will be highly contested at Dortmund. The question is, where that will leave 20-year-old Mikel Merino, who was denied a loan move to Cologne in the winter. Even against Darmstadt, his chances of valuable playing time seem harshly limited, although his implementation on Saturday would make sense on paper.

Since the task is keeping every player happy in a big squad, Tuchel's focus will be on a straightforward win against an inferior side before the all-important Champions League clash with Benfica.