The Bundesliga’s top two teams meet in a rematch of last year’s Champions League final on Saturday night. The stakes of Der Klassiker are high — a Bayern win would stretch the lead over Dortmund to seven points, for Franck Ribery “a preliminary decision for the title.” The pressure is on Dortmund to defend its home field, but will they? Here are five points you should keep an eye during the match at Signal Iduna Park:
1. Injury bug makes it mark
Five Dortmund players who started in the Champions League final will miss the rematch due to injury, including the entire back line. Dortmund were already planning without Lukasz Piszczek and Neven Subotic, who tore ligaments in his knee earlier this month. as well as playmaker Ilkay Gundogan. But those problems compounded when the remaining half of its Wembley defense — Mats Hummels and Marcel Schmelzer — picked up knocks in Germany’s friendly win over England.
It couldn’t come at a worse time for Jurgen Klopp, who said he “picked up 80% of his grey hairs this week.” He’ll likely opt to play midfielders Sven Bender and Kuba Blaszczykowski in defense to avoid throwing talented but inexperienced players such as Koray Gunter or Erik Durm into the fire.
2. Bayern are hurting, too
On the other side, Bayern will miss their two most important players. Bastian Schweinsteiger is out for the rest of 2013, while Franck Ribery will sit out after breaking a rib in France’s World Cup qualifier against the Ukraine. Xherdan Shaqiri and Claudio Pizarro also remain on the sidelines. Of course, Josep Guardiola’s squad is significantly deeper than Dortmund’s. Javi Martinez and Toni Kroos will likely pull the strings in midfield, while Mario Goetze could deputize for Ribery. One other key player may get a late run-out: Thiago Alcantara finally returned to practice the last two weeks.
3. All eyes on one man: Mario Goetze
The anticipation of Goetze’s return to Dortmund, where he became a household name, has dominated the German headlines this week. He can expect a hostile reaction from the home fans for the full 90 minutes, after incredibly signing with Dortmund’s league rivals this past summer. You can read more on Goetze’s return here.
Dortmund fans will make their voices heard against former club hero Mario Goetze (Image: Getty).
4. Matchup to watch: Dortmund’s wings versus Bayern’s fullbacks
Whenever Dortmund had success against Bayern, it was thanks to their high press and counterattacks. In Marco Reus and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Dortmund field two of the fastest players in the Bundesliga, but can they outplay Bayern’s fullbacks?
David Alaba is quickly becoming one of the best in the world at his position, but if Philipp Lahm plays in the Schweinsteiger role, look for Dortmund to target Rafinha on the right side all night. Bayern’s fullbacks love to push all the way up-field, which could make them vulnerable to the pace of Reus and Aubameyang. Everyone knows what Robert Lewandowski can do, but will he get enough service?
5. Bayern’s Plan A vs Plan B
At the start of the season, there was much debate whether Guardiola would employ his “false nine” system as he did in Barcelona with Lionel Messi. We know the answer by now: yes and no. Guardiola has tried the likes of Thomas Muller, Goetze and even Ribery in that role on occasion, but also relied heavily on true striker Mario Mandzukic.
Guardiola freely employs both systems, sometimes even within the same game. For instance, when Bayern’s opponents clamp down and tiki-taka fails, Guardiola brings on Mandzukic, the wings supply more crosses and voila, the Croatian usually comes through. Indeed, more than half of his Bundesliga goals have been scored with his head.
That flexibility has helped Guardiola greatly in his first season at Bayern; he didn’t have the luxury of such Plan “B” while at Barcelona. Which style Bayern will start out with in Dortmund remains to be seen, but you can count on Guardiola to adjust as needed.
Mario Mandzukic has been Bayern’s Mr. Reliable (Image: Reuters).
Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller; Grosskreutz, Sokratis, Bender, Blaszczykowski; Kehl, Sahin; Reus, Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang; Lewandowski.
Bayern Munich: Neuer; Alaba, Boateng, Dante, Lahm; Martinez; Goetze, Kroos, Robben; Mandzkuic/Muller.
Prediction: Dortmund 1, Bayern 2