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McKennie vs Reus and the key duels could decide the Schalke-Dortmund Revierderby

  /  autty

Will Marco Reus escape the attentions of Weston McKennie in Saturday's derby between Schalke and Borussia Dortmund? Can Nabil Bentaleb outshine Axel Witsel in the centre of the pitch? How can Salif Sane stop Paco Alcacer from scoring? And could Jadon Sancho's one-on-one duel with Hamza Mendyl decide the destiny of the Revierderby?

The Ruhr Valley pair will serve up a titanic contest bubbling over with local passion and top-class talent in the name of securing three points and local bragging rights at the Veltins Arena (kick-off 3:30pm CET/ 2:30pm GMT/ 9:30am ET). looks at the men whose performances could sway the 'Mother of all derbies' the way of their clubs…but only if they can get the better of the man trying just as hard to tip it his way.

Weston McKennie vs. Marco Reus

If you're looking for a major reason Dortmund have averaged nearly three goals a league game this season, don't look much further than Reus. With a hand in 14 of the team's 37 strikes, including netting nine of his own, the Germany international — at 29 — is arguably playing the best football of his career, and vows enticingly, "It’s still getting better."

Reus has played a central role thanks in large part to Lucien Favre's use of him in, well, a central role. Having kickstarted Reus' career at Borussia Mönchengladbach, Favre knows his captain well, and employing him as a number 10 has proven a masterstroke as he can influence play - as he did in the 3-2 win against Bayern Munich - as well as using his position on the pitch to "get a good overview of a match".

McKennie is the one who must block Reus' vision. The USA international midfielder claimed earlier this season he "can play anywhere except goalkeeper," and his position on Matchday 14 will need to be always within tackling distance of the Dortmund captain if Schalke are to triumph.

There is no doubt the iron-willed, industrious Texan can do it. "Even when things aren't going well, he embodies a lot of what we stand for," said Schalke boss Domenico Tedesco, who will require McKennie to employ some Gelsenkirchen grit to stick to his task — and his man — for 90 minutes.

Salif Sane vs. Paco Alcacer

He has totalled just 281 minutes on the pitch in Germany in his career — that's just over three games' worth — but no-one is questioning Dortmund's decision to already take up the option to buy Paco Alcacer having barely unwrapped their summer arrival from Barcelona.

A joint-league-high ten goals have come in the flash of just 17 attempts on goal and from only two starts, and all but one of the Spain international's strikes have come from off the bench — already equalling the Bundesliga record for a season's total of super-sub goals. Normally it would be good news for opponents that the league's top scorer isn't starting the game, but not when that forward's name is 'Paco Alcacer.'

If you are the Schalke rearguard, then the sight of the former Valencia forward readying himself to come on when you have already been pummelled by the combined forces of Reus, Sancho & Co. could be demoralising, but Sane is just the man to keep them off the canvas.

While the Dortmund forward's stats are frightening, Alcacer should be aware Sane's own numbers are pretty scary, notably the 65 per cent of duels won this season that puts him ahead of Dortmund's Manuel Akanji (63 per cent), Bayern's Mats Hummels (61) and RB Leipzig's Dayot Upamecano (61).

"Sane always puts his foot in at the right moment," Tedesco noted after Schalke's 1-1 draw at Hannover last season; he and Schalke now need Sane to not put a foot wrong.

Hamza Mendyl vs. Jadon Sancho

If Sane needs to ensure he's alert for when Alcacer is on the scene, Mendyl will need to be seriously clued up for the challenge he will face in Sancho. The Schalke left-back only returned from a three-game injury lay-off on Matchday 13, and if he saw some of the slight of foot tricks Sancho pulled in throwing the Freiburg defence off balance last weekend, he could be forgiven for wishing his spell on the sidelines had been extended.

Not that the Morocco international has shirked the step up from Lille and Ligue 1 since his summer arrival in Germany until an ankle ligament injury sustained in early November halted his momentum.

His wits will need to be as sharp as a pace when he comes up against Sancho, who has arguably been the stand-out success story in a season of triumphant Dortmund fairytales.

Four goals and six assists make the English teenager one of BVB's — and the Bundesliga's — most potent performers in 2018/19, and on current form, the 18-year-old has the ability to tip the Revierderby in his team's direction with an impudent flick of a boot as he revels in getting what he came to Germany for: time on the pitch.

"Honestly, them giving me opportunities at such a young age, I just have to thank the club and all my family that have been behind me from the start," said Sancho, explaining why he had been so keen to swap Manchester City for Dortmund in summer 2017. If he becomes a derby hero on Schalke soil, he will have the whole of BVB's ultra-passionate support behind him too.

Nabil Bentaleb vs. Axel Witsel

Schalke have not had the start to the season anyone on the Royal Blue side of the Ruhr Valley rift would have hoped for, but it could have — and would have — been worse but for Bentaleb.

The Algerian midfielder's sure use of the ball in midfield — he completes four out of every five passes — has kept Tedesco's men ticking over, while his three goals this season, all coolly slotted home from the spot, have him on course to handsomely improve on the four league strikes he got during an injury-peppered 2017/18.

Only Sane and Daniel Caligiuri have covered more ground for Schalke this season, and the former Tottenham Hotspur man's underrated engine will be required just as much as his passing range and sang froid when he goes toe-to-toe with Witsel.

If Schalke are to enjoy the game at the Veltins Arena, Bentaleb may well have to — like Paul Pogba for France during the FIFA World Cup in Russia — rein in some of his natural attacking talents to keep tabs on Witsel to deny Dortmund the chance to ease into high gear going forward before kickstarting his own team when he has the ball at his feet.

That Witsel is a top-quality performer is news to no-one, but the Belgium international's re-adaptation to European football after an 18-month spell in China has still left most observers open-mouthed in admiration.

"I try to bring in my experience, even if this is the first time in my career that I’ve played at the top level in a top league," Witsel told earlier in the campaign. You can't tell. It was felt his January 2017 switch to the Far East came too soon in his career; at 29, Witsel has proven his critics absolutely right. Not that Dortmund are complaining.

His joint-Bundesliga high 94 per cent pass completion rate looks like the stuff of FIFA 19 fiction, but is wholly grounded in on-the-pitch reality this season. His lung-bursting displays put him just outside the league's top 20 for blades of grass covered, and the instant understanding he has struck up with another newboy, Thomas Delaney, has provided Dortmund's attacking talents with the rock-solid platform they have needed to express themselves so devastatingly well.