European Champions Bayern Munich and runner’s up Borussia Dortmund meet for their first league encounter since the Champions League Final at Wembley, last May. While treble winners, Bayern remain the traditional powerhouse on the German game, Dortmund under coach Jürgen Klopp have won two of the last three domestic titles. Klopp has assembled one of the most watchable group of players in Europe and become the catalyst in a furious debate on Twitter as to the true meaning of the term “football hipster.” Needless to say this match is highly anticipated in Germany and beyond. However, while Dortmund have the home advantage they will have to face Pep Guardiola’s team without their entire first choice defense.
Going without midfielder İlkay Gündoğan and right back Łukasz Piszczek for most of the season, so far, has been difficult but not impossible to manage. However the injury situation took a turn for the worse when one of their central defenders damaged a cruciate knee ligament a couple of weeks ago at Wolfsburg. Then things took turn for the even worse with the other central defender, Mats Hummels did his ankle in during his second half turn at Wembley against England on Tuesday. He’s out until January. How would Oscar Wilde have put it? “To lose one centre back may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two is a right pain in the arse.”
Add to that the missing left back Marcel Schmelzer who also played at Wembley and is out for three weeks. All of which has left Dortmund fans gnashing their teeth and pondering the motives of national team coach Jogi Löw who sent two Bayern Munich players home early from international duty while the Dortmund player were compelled to stick around.
As for Bayern, they are rolling along nicely despite a hesitant start under Pep Guardiola. Of course, hesitant by Bayern standards is bloody brilliant by everyone elses and Guardiola has yet to see his team lose a Bundesliga match.
Most notable of the absentees are Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ballon d’Or nominee, Franck Ribéry. Filling in for Schweinsteiger isn’t so much of a problem because the Bayern midfield is chock full of cracking middlemen. Toni Kroos can play a long pass with dead eyed accuracy, Javi Martinez and Thiago Alcântara have had reduced opportunities this season but are top class deep lying midfielders. Hell, Pep’s even played Philipp Lahm in the midfield and it turns out that one of the best fullbacks in the World is a well handy midfielder. So much so that he played in that position for German against Italy.
Despite Ribéry’s absence, Bayern can call upon the awesome attacking skills of Thomas Müller, Arjen Robben and Mario Mandžukić who between them make up a mouthwatering attack capable of ripping into any team, especially if they have a makeshift defense like Dortmund who will definitely play Greek international Sokratis Papastathopoulos and probably the 34 year old Manuel Friedrich who was a free agent until a few days ago when he signed for Dortmund until the end of the season. The former Leverkusen player, who scored against Chelsea in the Champions League in 2011, will need to draw upon all his experience to avoid getting overrun by Bayern’s ruthless forwards.
But let’s not bury Dortmund just yet. Despite the Casualty extras at the back, going forward Dortmund have players that are the envy of most clubs. Marco Reus, Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and the jewel in the crown, Henrik Mkhitaryan. The Armenian was signed from Donetsk in the Summer and glides across the turf like that weird alien chick in Mars Attacks. He moves the ball through the air with great power and control.
Even at the back, all is not lost. Sokratis has proved to be an excellent deputy since signing from Werder Bremen in the Summer and at right back Dortmund have the best utility player in Germany (probably) and that’s Kevin Großkreutz. A native of Dortmund and lifelong supporter, Big Kev, started his career at the club as an attacking midfielder only to be replaced by, frankly, better players. But Großkreutz has made a virtue stepping into the breach where needed to the extent that there have been calls for him to join the national team. In fairness a lot of those calls have come from me but that’s by-the-by.
However, Großkreutz will not be the only local Dortmund lad on the pitch on Saturday. I am of course referring to one of the few players that I’ve not mentioned so far and that is Bayern’s Mario Götze* who will be returning to the Westfalenstadion for the first time since his controversial Summer transfer. Götze has also suffered with injuries and it has taken time for him to get settled. However, in the last few weeks he is beginning to show his value to the team. He is likely to be the focal point of this match as he tries to pick his way through Dortmund’s backline while suffering the backlash from the home support. Many Dortmund fans are still angry with with Götze, not just for going to Bayern but because of the circumstances surrounding the announcement of his departure, on the eve of a big Champions League game against Real Madrid, last season.
In fact, there is so much attention likely to be place on young Götze that the eventual match winner may be someone else. After all there is plenty of talent from both sides on offer and it is little wonder that this is probably the most anticipated fixture in Europe. If you’re into this sort of thing you should check it out.
Borussia Dortmund v Bayern Munich kicks off at 17:30 UK time on Saturday 23rd November and will be live on BT Sport in the UK.
*Clarification: While Mario Götze is a product of Dortmund’s youth system, he was in fact born in Memmingen which is in Bavaria. My thanks to Manuel Veth for the correction.
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