Picking a Bayern and Dortmund Combined Best XI
The table in mid-season may not show it, but there is little doubting that Bayern and Dortmund are the Bundesliga's top two teams. BVB have won the German league for two consecutive seasons and, although they are only currently third in the table, their performances in the Champions League have more than made up for the gap to second place.
Bayern, meanwhile, are Germany's most historic club and, despite their latent drought of titles, are well on their way towards a treble in midseason. Their ranks include incredible depth and immense class, and in terms of overall quality the Bavarians certainly have one of the top two or three squads in Europe.
Both Bayern and Dortmund have tremendous talent in their ranks, and their upcoming meeting in the DFB-Pokal will be the most anticipated match in Germany this spring. But who has the better squad? Which Dortmund players would get into the Bayern first XI, and vice versa? Read on for a full analysis...
Goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer
Many prominent voices in German football have called on Joachim Loew to nominate Roman Weidenfeller as part of his national team squad, but even the most ardent supporters of the Dortmund goalkeeper will admit that Manuel Neuer is the best goalkeeper his country has to offer.
Neuer is experienced on the international stage both for club and country, and players with the spirit of a champion. He is a better athlete than Weidenfeller, has better footwork, and is more convincing in the air. With respect to Weidenfeller, there simply is no comparison.
Right-Back: Lukasz Piszczek
As recently as 2010, Lukasz Piszczek was a modest winger playing for a dreadful Hertha BSC. Since then, the Poland international has established himself as one of the best right-backs in Europe. His pace, tremendous work rate and ability to go forward gives him a slight edge in this XI. Although the decision was very, very close.
Piszcek's inclusion in the combined Bayern-Dortmund XI comes at the expense of David Alaba. Though both are of similar skill sets, the Pole's greater experience serves as a trump card.
Center-Back: Mats Hummels
Among the set of Bayern and Dortmund center-backs, Mats Hummels is by far the most talented. He routinely man-marks even elite strikers into anonymity, is superb with the ball at his feet and almost never gets booked.
While he has been more worldly this season than in previous years, Hummels has a strong record to back him. He was among the top three players in the Bundesliga in each of the previous two seasons, and was certainly the best defender. And even though his form in the domestic league has not always been the greatest this season, he has been outstanding in the Champions League.
Center-Back: Holger Badstuber
While Hummels' inclusion is an automatic, the second center-back position is much more open for debate. Jerome Boateng is still not mature, but Dante has played at a very high level over the last season and a half. Still, Holger Badstuber gets the nod.
While Badstuber's skills are not obvious (he's relatively slow, physically weak and not particularly good in the air), he is very quick to react and, like Hummels, can anticipate danger before opponents can make a half-chance. When in an organized system, he's very consistent. And his play with the ball is elite among central defenders.
Left-Back: Philipp Lahm
No Bayern-Dortmund combined XI would be complete without Philipp Lahm. The Bayern and Germany captain is immensely experienced and, although he is best on the right, is qualified enough to fit into the combined XI at left-back.
While it is possible for David Alaba to one day reach Lahm's level, for the time being, the 95-times-capped Germany international gets the nod.
Defensive Midfielder: Bastian Schweinsteiger
Like Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger is one of the figures who could never be omitted from a Bayern-Dortmund combined XI. The vice-captain of both his club and country, the Kolbermoor native oozes class and is one of the world's best and most complete holding midfielders.
Schweinsteiger's range of qualities exceeds those of any other competitor for a spot in this team. He's more combative than Ilkay Gundogan, and is a better dribbler and distributor than Javi Martinez, Sebastian Kehl and Sven Bender.
Defensive Midfielder: Ilkay Gundogan
Just 12 months ago, Ilkay Gundogan was a failed convert from the playmaker position to holding midfield. He was given a second chance in the spring, and took it brilliantly.
A year and a half since his move from Nuernberg, Gundogan has stepped into the boots Nuri Sahin left when he departed for Real Madrid. The 22-year-old has learned the art of ball-retention, and can dribble between defenders, play short, one-two passes and position himself to draw fouls. All that, and he is learned to defend. It is no wonder why Joachim Loew rates him so highly.
Right-Winger: Marco Reus
As the Bundesliga's best player of 2012, Marco Reus is an automatic inclusion in the combined Bayern-Dortmund XI. His ability to play anywhere in a front four and to pass, dribble and finish with both feet make him an incredibly rare talent and a nightmare for defenders.
Thomas Mueller is Reus' most direct competition for a spot in this XI, but the Dortmund man is sharper and has a wider range of skills. And although Mueller has a record for playing well in big games, Reus has taken every chance he's had. In seven Bundesliga games against Bayern, he has scored and assisted five goals. And in his first season in the Champions League, he scored the opener in away matches against Manchester City, Real Madrid and Ajax.
Central Attacking Midfielder: Mario Goetze
Perhaps the most difficult decision in the combined XI is that of central playmaker. Mario Goetze and Toni Kroos both have their merits. The Bayern man is certainly more versatile and can play more effectively in deep areas. On the other hand, the Dortmund No. 10 has a greater arsenal in the attacking third and is a better creator of goals.
Goetze gets the nod in this case because his characteristics most accurately reflect the qualifications of a No. 10. The man who plays behind the central striker is meant to be, above all other things, a creator of goals. Kroos is a box-to-box midfielder, and tends to score only from distance. Goetze is more explosive and direct; he's quicker, a better dribbler, and can finish from inside and outside the box.
Left Winger: Franck Ribery
With Reus, Franck Ribery is the Bundesliga's best player, and certainly must be included in this team. The France international is an incredibly reliable producer of goals and is truly one of Europe's very best wingers.
Ribery can dribble as well as just about anyone on the planet, and his playmaking vision is phenomenal. He's carried Bayern for the majority of the last five-and-a-half years, and will be the man to spearhead the Bavarians' appeal for titles in 2013.
Striker: Mario Gomez
The choice of Mario Gomez or Robert Lewandowski depends on system. There is no doubt that the Polish striker is much better at Dortmund than he would be at Bayern, while the Germany international greatly benefits from the Bavarians' style of play and would have less success at the Signal-Iduna Park.
With all things considered, however, Gomez is the better striker. He'd still be a success at Dortmund, more than Lewandowski would be at Bayern. Gomez is vastly experienced and is Europe's most prolific striker over the last five years and counting. No doubt, he deserves the striker spot in this lineup.