Borussia Dortmund may have suffered their first UEFA Champions League defeat of the season at the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday night, but it did not prevent Jurgen Klopp’s men from making it through to the final at Wembley Stadium toward the end of the month, where in all likelihood they will face bitter rivals Bayern Munich.
And already their head coach has announced that whoever they do meet in London on May 25, fellow Bundesliga outfit Munich or Liga champions-elect Barcelona, Dortmund will be the underdogs come what may to claim just a second-ever European Cup.
However, assuming it will be Jupp Heynckes’ side that join them at the home of football, then how exactly will Dortmund match up against the Bavarian giants and try to overcome arguably Europe’s most in-form team?
Well, let’s not forget that these two sides have already faced each other twice before this season, once way back on August 12 in the DFB Super Cup, which Bayern won 2-1, and then in the Bundesliga on December 1 at the Allianz Arena when the match ended in a 1-1 draw, one of the few times that Heynckes and Co. have not won a league game this campaign.
And almost inevitably, both teams meet again in the league on Saturday at the Westfalenstadion in an encounter that will mean little in terms of the destiny of this season’s Bundesliga crown, which Bayern wrapped up ages ago, but will most definitely offer a few interesting pointers ahead of the UEFA Champions League final.
Now, if you discount that DFB Super Cup clash that kicked off this season, Klopp’s men are actually unbeaten against the recently crowned Bundesliga champions in each of their previous five league meetings, four of which have ended in positive results for Dortmund, while they also thrashed Bayern 5-2 in last May’s DFB-Pokal final in Berlin’s Olympic stadium.
As a result, you can understand just why Dortmund will be praying that their fellow Germans can finish the job off at Camp Nou on Wednesday night and take their place alongside them in the English capital at the end of May as there is no doubt about it, Klopp and Dortmund have the beating of Bayern, and what’s more, Munich know it as well.
One of the secrets to the huge amount of success that Klopp has enjoyed since arriving in the Ruhr Valley five years ago is that he likes to keep as settled a group of players as possible and especially when it comes to his starting 11s.
And so, there will be no surprises come kickoff time at Wembley on May 25, injuries permitting—Klopp has a particular style of football that he likes his team to play, and that will not change whether he is preparing for the biggest club match in world football or a preseason friendly in Kaiserslautern.
As if to demonstrate that very point, the 11 that took the field at the Bernabeu on Tuesday night were the exact same starting lineup that faced Bayern at the Allianz Arena in their first league meeting of this season back at the start of December.
Meanwhile, there were only three alterations from Dortmund’s victorious German Cup final side that thrashed Bayern last May, with then-captain Sebastian Kehl, Kevin GroSSkreutz and Shinji Kagawa all starting that contest in place of Marco Reus, Mario Gotze and Sven Bender, the latter two who were on the substitutes’ bench, who appeared in the Spanish capital.
But for all intents and purposes, Dortmund will take to the field in London with the same 11 men that upset Madrid over two legs in the semi-final, subject to Gotze recovering in time from the injury that he sustained early on in the second leg at Madrid.
At the back they will be strong and robust, led by the imposing presence of skipper Roman Weidenfeller in goal, while in front of him is the silky-smooth Mats Hummels, now having fully recovered from his ankle ligament injury from earlier this year, and Neven Subotic, a present one of European football’s most dominant centre-back partnerships.
And they are going to need to be if, as expected, they come up against a rampant Bayern attack next month, although in front of them patrolling the back four and putting out fires will be the protective shield of both IIkay Gundogan and Sven Bender.
However, Klopp’s game plan will be to try to pose the Bavarians just as many headaches going forward as they will to his men, which in turn will keep Bayern’s attacking full-backs at bay, and that is where the likes of Lukasz Piszczek and Marcel Schmelzer will come into play.
Inevitably, though, much is likely to rest on the shoulders of his plethora of creative operators if Dortmund are to cause an upset in the final, with players of the calibre and technique of Gotze, Reus and Robert Lewandowski likely to be the real keys to success.
Get that trio of deadly forwards on the ball often enough within the attacking confines of Manuel Neuer’s goal, while also keeping the back door shut as they managed for most of their 180-plus minutes against Madrid, then we could very well be seeing that great wide smile of Klopp’s light up Wembley on 25 May.
And make no mistake about it either, Bayern know that all too well….