DORTMUND, Germany -- After Wednesday's resounding 4-0 win over Benfica that saw Borussia Dortmund reach the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League and lifted spirits altogether at the club, one of the Bundesliga's most unthankful tasks awaits the Ruhr side: a trip to Berlin's Olympiastadion.
Hertha Berlin aren't known to grab headlines for their spectacular and entertaining games at their home stadium because "spectacular" and "entertaining" would be a stretch to describe Hertha's pragmatic approach to home games. Nevertheless, Pal Dardai's side sit atop the Bundesliga's "home table", ahead of RB Leipzig, Bayern Munich and Dortmund, as they stifle their opponents with a defensive organisation that hardly commits blatant errors.
A John Brooks-led backline has only conceded just five goals in 11 home matches this season, a major reason Berlin has won nine matches to date. On Saturday, they will look to make it 10 against a Dortmund side they are yet to lose against this season, as both the reverse fixture in October and the Cup match in February ended 1-1 after 90 minutes.
Thomas Tuchel's men are enjoying their best patch of form this season, as they have won three Bundesliga games on the bounce and are fresh off thrashing Benfica in style after trailing 1-0 to the Portuguese giants after the first leg.
As important as Wednesday's win was for the self-understanding of the club to be once again among Europe's top eight, landing three points on Saturday would be a massive achievement for Dortmund, as it would put more space between them and fifth place, in which Hertha Berlin are currently sitting. And a look further up the table is also still allowed for third-placed BVB, who currently sit six points behind RB Leipzig.
Though, the "Champions League hangover" has been a recurring theme in Dortmund's season thus far, as they have dropped points on the road in Leverkusen, Ingolstadt, Frankfurt and Cologne directly after European fixtures.
"The team is playing at a high level for weeks now, and we're deserving the results we are getting," Thomas Tuchel told his news conference on Friday adding: "turning around a complicated Champions League tie and persevering against a Leverkusen team that never gave up -- those experiences are the bedrocks for our confidence."
The Dortmund coach underlined the importance of his fringe players to "contribute to the team spirit," making "it a harmonic whole."
"The time has come that some of those players, who are really close to the starting formation can get a start," Tuchel said.
With Raphael Guerreiro and Sokratis Papastathopoulos doubtful, there is a good chance that the likes of Matthias Ginter, Andre Schurrle and Shinji Kagawa rotate into the starting eleven on Saturday.
"We have to acknowledge that it was an intense match on Wednesday. For many players, and also for the staff, it was a first real Champions League experience," Tuchel continued. "We have to find a good mix [between fresh legs and regular starters]."
Dortmund will play the postponed DFB Cup quarterfinal on Tuesday against Lotte and will have to play their next Bundesliga match on Friday against FC Ingolstadt, making it tricky for Tuchel and his staff to avoid overextending his players. Starting with the trip to Berlin, the depth of BVB's squad will undergo a litmus test, and players, who have been on the fringes will have to integrate seamlessly.
Exciting times for Dortmund fans, who are likely to see more of Mikel Merino, and winter signing Alexander Isak. Both made the trip to Berlin, along with other youngsters Emre Mor and Felix Passlack.
"We held talks with Mikel about a potential loan move during the winter training camp, but I was strictly against that. I find that he made an enormous step forward since then," Tuchel revealed about the 20-year-old, who joined Dortmund from Osasuna in summer. "He is training on a very high level, and I'm sure he will play an important part for us in the very intense weeks to come. He's very close to playing."
Merino played his first full 90 minutes for the Westphalians as a centre-back against Hertha Berlin, where he managed to impress after a nervy start. He could be one to profit from Dortmund's crammed schedule, as Tuchel can utilise him in both central defence and midfield.
While 18-year-old Christian Pulisic and 19-year-old Ousmane Dembele are already in the limelight, the Ruhr side still have a few gems up their sleeves, who are developing a bit more "behind the scenes". As Tuchel's rotation machinery comes back to action, the squad for the season ahead will also slowly but surely start to take shape, as fringe players will either take their chance when it presents itself or fall behind altogether.