So who sees Saarbrücken becoming a serious part of the narrative this week? Bayern Munich to blame (a cool German word for “disgrace”) adds another layer of interest and complexity to assessing how Saturday’s showpiece event in the DFB-Pokal might play out.
Internationally, Borussia Dortmund-vs-Bayern”Classics“,” is, as it turns out, an important selling point for the Bundesliga. Recent history means there’s always the temptation to frame this as a game to decide… well, everything, the assumption being Dortmund will always prevail if Bayern are being denied. Meisterschale.
The events of April 1 in Munich proved that lie. Bayern cruised to a comfortable 4-2 win in Thomas Tuchel’s first match to reclaim top spot, yet Dortmund still hold all the cards going into the final week of the season. It was not lost Record Master In a straight duel that ends up costing Schwarzenegger Title.
This season is complicated for both sides by the presence of Bayer Leverkusen at the summit, whose aesthetically pleasing style under former Bayern choreographer Xabi Alonso has impressed everyone. They drew 2-2 in Munich in September.
– Dortmund vs Bayern: Saturday, 1:30 pm ET, stream live on ESPN+
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RB Leipzig — although out of the Pokal like Bayern — have shown themselves to be a team capable of taking points away from the other major champions and did just that against Bayern a little over a month ago.
In other words, the idea that Dortmund must single-handedly stop Bayern, or forget the whole thing, is outdated. There are many more nuances to this season’s title fight.
BVB and Bayern go into Saturday’s clash as chasers, trailing Leverkusen by four and two points respectively, yet both remain unbeaten in the Bundesliga.
Bayern’s defeat at Saarbrucken may not play as tactically as a challenge for 3. Can’t compare to the cut and thrust of Liga sides with different, more limited tactics. Classics Played in front of 81,000 fans.
Still, Wednesday’s loss is another blemish on Tuchel’s escutcheon, with the Pokal defeat to SC Freiburg coming just days after a win over BVB last spring. There’s a feeling that as much as Tuchel is respected, he hasn’t looked much better than he did under Julian Nagelsmann. Still there seems to be an over-reliance on individual qualities rather than superior technique.
Do not sniff at personal qualities, remember. Leroy Sané is in the shape of his life and his partnership with Harry Kane is a joy to watch. Kane himself has been a flourish, as you might expect from a player who commanded a transfer fee of over €100 million, but it’s clear the England captain feels he’s taking on something new and different in the Bundesliga. His wonder goal from inside his own half against Darmstadt was one to take the breath away.
Then you consider Jamal Musiala, who put the final dagger in Dortmund on May 27 to secure an 11th successive title, in addition to Kingsley Coman and Thomas Muller, the latter of whom can sometimes be seen as bit-part players. Bayern can still hurt any team with their sheer footballing ability.
But the team’s balance is problematic, with a legacy of poor planning cutting themselves short in certain positions, particularly in defensive midfield, right-back and central defense (where, in fairness, Bayern have been somewhat unlucky.)
Tuchel raised talks of a “holding six” in the summer but instead got a “holding knicks” from the club (there’s no such thing as “knicks”). Joshua Kimmich, who some internally consider a no. 8 types, however have been suspended. Bayern have an even bigger hole than usual to fill on Saturday. Leon Goretzka, who recently broke his hand, is likely to play alongside Konrad Leimer. Again not a normal “sixer” to use the term in German football.
Injuries have plagued central defense and recently affected Deot Upmechano and now Matthijs de Ligt, who picked up a knee injury in Saarbrucken, will be out for some time. In retrospect, moving Benjamin Pavard and sending Josip Stanisic on loan to Leverkusen showed haste.
And the right-back? Nowsair Mazrawi is now virtually the only option for that position, assuming he overcomes his illness.
What do I mean by balance? There isn’t much balance across the board here, but the talent in the creative position is undeniable. Manuel Neuer is back after nearly a year out and Saturday will likely represent his first endurance test since breaking his leg in a skiing accident last December.
Dortmund’s season improved with an unexpected opening win over FC Cologne after a stumbling start in which they drew with VFL Bochum and Bundesliga newcomers Heidenheim. Trying to replace Judd Bellingham must have been an impossible task.
Performances have been scrutinized in recent weeks, and yes, at times it’s been no-frills football, as coach Edin Terzic says “less sexy, more successful.” But BVB showed that, while Wednesday’s 1-0 Pokal win over TSG Hoffenheim is their favorite (they have recorded five such wins in all competitions this term), they also have the ability to fight back in high-scoring contests, such as the 4-2 win over Union Berlin and A tense 3-3 draw at Eintracht Frankfurt last week.
A bit like Bayern, a lot depends on their three attacking midfield players: Julian Brandt, Daniel Mallen and Dortmund-born Marco Reus, who at 34 can still contribute mightily. The decision to step down from the captaincy was the right one.
Brandt has carried BVB in most of their matches and is always likely to be involved in setting up or scoring a goal. Mallen was running the net early when no one else seemed able to. All this relegates USA’s Giovanni Reyna and most others to the sidelines.
The presence of Niklas Fulkrug, the Bundesliga’s joint-top scorer last season, gives Dortmund a true attacking focal point. In defence, Mats Hummels has done a strong job alongside Nico Schlotterbeck while Gregor Kobel — forget his moment of disaster in April’s meeting with Bayern — has oozed confidence and not made a notable error this term.
The full-back positions are a relative weakness where BVB are concerned, and new captain Emre cannot consistently find the form that propelled Dortmund to their 2023-23 title push.
Who will win here on Saturday? History speaks for Bayern, but don’t forget that in a similar game last season, Dortmund came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2. Just once in the last nine Bundesliga games Classics Meetings are held at Signal Iduna Park Record Master Won by more than one-goal margin.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Dortmund could follow in the footsteps of Leverkusen and Leipzig and take something from the game to emphasize the multi-team fight for silverware this season.