Bayern Munich host Borussia Dortmund on Saturday in what is anticipated to be the most important Bundesliga match of the fall campaign.
The Bavarians have led the league all season and enjoy a significant points cushion atop the table, but Dortmund have stormed back from a disappointing start and may be the only side that can realistically challenge die Roten’s title run.
The 11-point lead Bayern enjoy over the title holders is perhaps their most significant advantage heading into Saturday’s clash. Entering three of the last four Bundesliga clashes between the two clubs, Dortmund were ahead of Bayern in the Bundesliga standings. In the fourth, Bayern were five points clear and would have been catchable even in the event of a draw.
Heading into Saturday’s match, however, the pressure is on Dortmund to take three points. Given their record-setting form thus far, Bayern may not drop 11 points from now until season’s end; if BVB don’t make up for lost ground in the head-to-head matches, they will never catch the Bavarians.
Knowing a draw is more than sufficient, Bayern will have a clear advantage: From kickoff, they start with the minimum result they need. Dortmund will have to work for theirs.
The other big boon for Bayern is that they will play on their home turf. Since the beginning of last season they have only lost three Bundesliga games at home, scoring 71 and conceding just 10 goals in 24 fixtures.
Bayern’s home-field advantage should not necessarily be considered entirely as a disadvantage for Dortmund, however. One of the Bavarians' two home losses last season was at the hands of the eventual champions, who have taken three points from each of their last two fixtures at the Allianz Arena.
BVB play well on the road, as exemplified in their Champions League performances against Manchester City and Real Madrid. Unlike in their matches in England and Spain, however, Dortmund will need more than a draw.
While Dortmund enter Saturday’s match facing an uphill struggle, they have all the quality to get the result they need. And in terms of decisive, game-changing players, they have the upper hand.
Marco Reus and Mario Goetze have been an unstoppable combination for BVB this season, especially in the big Champions League games. Each can play with both feet, and the two can appear together anywhere in attack.
Reus has the ability to score from anywhere in the final third, with slaloming runs, long-ranged curlers, volleys, free-kicks, or otherwise, and is ruthlessly efficient. He scored the opening goals for BVB in Manchester, Madrid and Amsterdam, and will be Bayern’s primary concern on Saturday.
Goetze has had a difficult calendar year, but his stunning performance against Ajax a week ago suggests he is ready to perform at the highest level once more. Though less of a threat on goal than Reus, the 20-year-old has formed a brilliant partnership with his fellow German international, and can play passes like few others in world football. And critically, it was he who scored the winner at the Allianz Arena a year ago.
That Dortmund have the upper hand in terms of game-changers is not meant to discount the credentials of Franck Ribery. The Bayern man is easily one of the world’s best wingers. However, Ribery is not as individually decisive as his BVB counterparts. He is, for the most part, a one-footed player, and his style of play typically requires a finisher to put the ball into the net.
Such finishers have been largely absent for Bayern in their clashes with Dortmund: Mario Gomez hasn’t scored against BVB since Tinga and Dede were starters in Juergen Klopp’s side, and while Mario Mandzukic found the target in the DFB Superpokal, his Champions League misfirings don’t exactly inspire confidence.
The enigma that is Thomas Mueller is a bit of an X-factor for Bayern as well. While he never really takes a game into his own hands in the way that Reus, Goetze and Ribery do, the 23-year-old has an uncanny knack of scoring goals when it matters most. The last thing BVB want is a close game entering the final quarter hour: if Mueller gets a chance, it’s foolish to bet against him scoring.
Saturday’s showdown will be another thrilling clash between Jupp Heynckes’ balanced, containment style and Klopp’s high-pressing, counterattacking tactics. The good news for viewers is that neither Bayern nor Dortmund will have to worry about their final Champions League group stage match next week: the two qualified for the knockout rounds with a game to spare, and will be able to give everything on Saturday.
Will Bayern catch Dortmund overextending themselves? Or will Goetze and Reus pull another rabbit out of the proverbial hat? All that awaits on Saturday...