One of club football’s great rivalries resumes on Tuesday afternoon as Bayern Munich travel to the Westfalenstadion to face Borussia Dortmund in ‘Der Klassiker.’ The Bundesliga’s greatest rivalry will pit first against second in a clash that will have a huge bearing on the destination of the league title.
A Rivalry Revitalised
The rivalry between Germanys two biggest clubs reached its zenith in 2013 when they squared off at Wembley in the Champions League Final, with Bayern triumphing 2-1 thanks to Arjen Robben’s late winner. Since then Bayern’s superior financial power has seen them move decisvely ahead of Dortmund taking Mario Gotze, Robert Lewandowski and Matts Hummels from their closest domestic rivals, after they’d helped Dortmund to back to back Bundesliga titles in 2011 and 2012.
Bayern have since held the upper hand, although Dortmund have proved capable of the odd surprise, notably the DFB Pokal semi-final in 2015 in what proved Jurgen Klopp’s last duel with Pep Guardiola in Germany. Last season saw the rivalry move up a notch as they fought out their closest title battle since 2013. Dortmund beat Bayern 3-2 at the Westfalen as they established a six point lead in the title race before Christmas.
However Bayern came good after the winter break, whittling away Dortmund’s lead and in the April rematch blew Dortmund away 5-0 at the Allianz Arena. Bayern claimed their seventh straight title and completed the domestic double. Dortmund finished last season empty handed but gained a measure of revenge by kicking off this season with victory over Bayern to lift the Super Cup.
Haaland Reignites Dortmund Challenge
The Super Cup win seemed to confirm this was Dortmund’s year to strike back, with Hummels following Gotze’s lead in returning to the Westfalen. Meanwhile two major attacking additions in Thorgan Hazard and Julian Brandt relieved some of the creative burden of the team from the injury prone Marco Reus. But a run of just one win from five back September saw Dortmund fall off the early pace and another hiding at the Allianz, this time 4-0 further damaged their challenge.
In the January transfer window Dortmund stunned the footballing world when they beat a host of Europe’s top clubs to the signing of Erling-Braut Haaland. The young Norweigan has proved a sensation notching 10 goals in his first 9 Bundesliga games. The arrival of Haaland has re-ignited Dortmund’s title challenge as they’ve carved out 9 wins from the last 10 games.
Flick Lights Bayern’s Fire
In any other season, Dortmund’s early season wobbles would have cost them a title challenge, not so this season because Bayern’s start was even worse. After the summer departures of Hummels together with club legends Robben and Franck Ribery it appeared Bayern were in transition. High priced summer arrival Philip Coutinho looking out of sorts and Bayern appeared the be playing with the handbrake on. A 5-1 hammering away to Eintracht Frankfurt proved the final nail in manager Nico Kovac’s coffin, with the Croatian dismissed in November. Hans-Dieter Flick was appointed caretaker boss and performances improved, but back to back defeats in early December saw Bayern enter the mid-season break in third place having already suffered four league defeats.
But, just like last season Bayern found their form when the league resumed and extended their winning run to take 31 points from 33 when the season was halted in March. Key to the turnaround has been Flick who’s restored the attacking football demanded by the Bayern faithful. The new boss has also revitalised the career of Thomas Muller who had looked a shadow of his former self but has since formed an irresistible front line with Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry.
Although Bayern have the longer winning record (9 in a row), Dortmund have been marginally the more impressive since the season restarted. Dortmund demolished European hopefuls Schalke and followed up with an edgy 2-0 away to Wolfsburg with Julian Brandt and Raphael Guerreiro outstanding.
Bayern meanwhile looked rusty in a 2-0 win over mid-table Union Berlin, but showed their attacking class against Eintracht Frankfurt with Lewandowski moving to 40 goals for the season. However against an out of sorts Frankfurt, Bayern’s poor defending from set pieces saw them concede twice in a matter of minutes.
Dortmund without key midfielder Axel Witsel will look to soak up pressure and try to shield their back three from Bayern’s awesome attacking trident. Bayern will look to control the midfield through Leon Goretzka and Thiago Alcantara but have to be mindful of Dortmund’s devastating speed on the counter.
Inevitably the game will be billed as the battle of the number nines with 31 year-old Lewandowski pitted against teenage sensation Haaland, who’ll be playing his first ‘Klassiker.’ It will fall on Hummels to mark Lewandowski whilst Jerome Boetang will be watching Haaland. Another key area will be whether or not Benjamin Pavard can keep Jadon Sancho quiet. The young England winger has been short of match fitness but he looks likely to start and with Reus injured is the player most likely to hurt Bayern on the counter. However recalling Sancho to the first eleven will give Coach Lucien Farve a headache over if to drop the in-form Brandt.
The game will be behind closed doors meaning Dortmund won’t have their yellow wall providing a twelfth man. The home side need the win more but defeat would still be a body blow to Bayern whilst a draw will bring Bayer Leverkusen and RB Leipzig back into title contention.
Borussia Dortmund vs Bayern Munich (26th May, 17.30 GMT)