Berlin (AFP) – Borussia Dortmund’s teenage stars Ousmane Dembele and Christian Pulisic will be in the spotlight in Saturday’s 150th Ruhr Valley at bitter Bundesliga rivals Schalke 04 in Germany’s top derby.
Both Dortmund and Schalke will be heavily stacked with the German league’s top young talent at Gelsenkirchen’s Veltins Arena.
“In the category of 18-22 year olds, we are at the front in Europe,” boasted Borussia’s CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke.
Under coach Thomas Tuchel, Dortmund are nurturing the likes of Germany’s 21-year-old defensive midfielder Julian Weigl.
Teenager forwards Dembele, 19, and Pulisic, still just 18, have attracted interest from Europe’s top clubs.
“Age doesn’t play a role as far as our trainer is concerned,” said Dembele.
“It comes down to ambition, commitment and a fighting spirit,” is how Schalke’s captain, World Cup winner Benedikt Hoewedes, sums up the clash.
Such is his desire to help Schalke that Hoewedes, 29, has delayed surgery on a groin injury until June.
Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the league’s top scorer with 23 goals this season, loves scoring in the derby and has netted in four of the five games he has started against Schalke.
Aubameyang is locked in a battle with Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski and Cologne’s Anthony Modeste to be the league’s top scorer, and has scored nine goals in his last six games for Dortmund.
Likewise, Schalke will rely on their talented youngsters defender Sead Kolasinac (23), play-maker Max Meyer (21) and defender Thilo Kehrer (20).
“It’s unbelievable how successful our youth academy is,” said sports director Christian Heidel, with all three having rise through Schalke’s ranks.
In the last ten years, Schalke’s academy has produced current Germany stars Hoewedes, Manuel Neuer, Mesut Ozil and Julian Draxler.
The neighbouring cities of Dortmund and Gelsenkirchen, the home of Schalke, are just 50 kilometres (31mi) apart, and there is no love lost.
Schalke, who are up to tenth last beat Dortmund in September 2014, but are desperate to cap a third straight league win by beating their old rivals.
Dortmund are third, a huge 16 points behind leaders Bayern Munich, and face Schalke at the start of a busy period with nine games to play in April including Champions League quarter-finals against Monaco.
Bayern are home to Augsburg on Saturday with Carlo Ancelotti’s side missing defender Javi Martinez with suspension.
The Bavarian giants are unbeaten in their last 19 games in all competitions and are 13 points clear at the top of the table.
Like Dortmund, Bayern are embarking on a busy April schedule with nine games including home and away Champions League clashes against Real Madrid.
Ancelotti is sure to rotate in Augsburg, as they face fourth-placed Hoffenheim away next Tuesday before hosting Borussia Dortmund, the only Bundesliga team to beat them this season a week on Saturday.
Second-placed RB Leipzig host bottom side Darmstadt on Saturday hoping to bounce back after straight defeats to strugglers Wolfsburg and Werder Bremen leave them with just seven points from their last seven games.
Top-scorer Timo Werner is injured after tearing a thigh muscle on his Germany debut in the win over England.
Guinea midfielder Naby Keita should feature despite having regained fitness after suffering a circulatory collapse a fortnight ago.
Fixtures (all times 1330 GMT unless stated)
Hertha v Hoffenheim (1830)
Bayern Munich v Augsburg, Schalke v Borussia Dortmund, Hamburg v Cologne, Freiburg v Werder Bremen, RB Leipzig v Darmstadt, E. Frankfurt v Borussia Moenchengladbach (1630)
Ingolstadt v Mainz, Bayer Leverkusen v Wolfsburg (1530)
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