On Saturday, they face current league leaders Bayer Leverkusen (11:00 CET, Youth Performance Centre in Brackel); on Wednesday they go head-to-head with Paris Saint-Germain to determine second place in the UEFA Youth League group (kick-off 16:00 CET); and on Sunday, 17 December (11:00 CET), they take on SC Verl in a rescheduled Bundesliga match. It's safe to say that Borussia's U19s and head coach Mike Tullberg have a critical week ahead of them.

The initial focus is on the clash with Leverkusen. "A few weeks ago, we set ourselves the goal of going into the winter break as the Bundesliga leaders," reveals Mike Tullberg. Back then, however, conditions were more favourable than they are now. On the one hand, Tullberg has major personnel problems to deal with and, on the other, the team lacks the rhythm of playing competitive matches.

Tullberg explained how the past month has reminded him somewhat of the Covid era: "We didn't have any league games, and the training group was really small." Charles Herrmann, Paris Brunner and Almugera Kabar, as well as goalkeeper Robin Lisewski (Poland), played in the U17 World Cup in Indonesia. Captain Filippo Mane was recovering from a serious knee injury in his native Italy, while a number of other players moved up to the U23 and first-team training squads. "It was very demanding for the remaining lads. We worked intensively on tactical and technical details," reports Tullberg. 

On the other hand, the players had to sit back and watch as Leverkusen overtook them in the table. Bayer have 30 points after 13 games, while BVB have 27 points after ten games and have three games (SC Verl, Schalke 04, SC Paderborn) to catch up on. Schalke are hot on the heels of the leading duo with 27 points from 12 games. Borussia played their last league game to date on 4 November, when they suffered a first Bundesliga defeat in four years with a 3-1 loss in Duisburg.

"It's certainly not an advantage having not played for so long, but we won't be looking for excuses," Tullberg assures us. In the Bundesliga opener in August, his newly-formed team - featuring current U17 world champions Almugera Kabar, Charles Herrmann and Paris Brunner - ran out 3-1 winners in Leverkusen. Herrmann and Brunner scored the goals alongside Danylo Krevsun. Bayer have steadily improved over the course of the season and have since only lost one game, away to Schalke (2-0).

A long list of injuries, with Lubach suspended 

Tullberg will be without several players for the reverse fixture: Filippo Mane will not return until after the winter break at the earliest, U19 Germany international Rafael Lubach was shown a red card in Duisburg and is suspended, Jaden Korzynietz and Ousmane Diallo are missing through injury, Charles Herrmann and Almugera Kabar have returned from the World Cup with injuries and are unavailable.

However, Tullberg remains full of fight and emphasises: "Despite all the difficulties, the joy of being back on the pitch as a team prevails. We will now pull together even harder and give our all to make sure this game is a success." (wiwi)