When the Bundesliga fixture list was released last summer, one game whet more appetites than any other: Bayern Munich's visit to the Westfalenstadion to face Borussia Dortmund on May 4th.
With BVB looking to secure their third consecutive league title and Bayern hungrier than ever to redress their status as Germany's biggest club, this edition of Der Klassiker could have been a thrilling title decider.
However, when they were 11 points behind after the Christmas break, it became clear that Jürgen Klopp's side would not be challenging for the title.
Saturday's match will have little impact on the domestic league, but based on recent fortunes of both sides in the European Cup, it will now take a significant role as a dress rehearsal for the big game at Wembley exactly three weeks later.
Based on a near-flawless domestic campaign that has featured only a single defeat, a DFB Pokal run that sees them face VfB Stuttgart in the final (a week after their trip to Wembley) and their magnificent 7-0 aggregate demolition of Barcelona, the Bavarian side have the momentum to send manager Jupp Heynckes on his way with the record of coaching the first ever treble-winning German side.
However, since they emerged as title challengers in 2010, Dortmund have become Bayern's achilles heel, and they have an opportunity to thwart this treble-winning season to become the first German side to win a European trophy since 2001. Die Schwarzgelben will be in no mood to let Saturday's match slip from their grasp either.
When BVB won the title in 2010-11 and 2011-12, they notched up five consecutive victories over Bayern, with an aggregate score of 12-3. This aggregate was pushed up by a rousing DFB Pokal final in which a Robert Lewandowski hat-trick helped Dortmund emerge as 5-2 victors.
This weekend, we are unlikely to see such a high-scoring affair, as both teams will be more cautious. But we will see a BVB team who have yet to beat their main title rivals this season, and who will be seeking a psychological edge before the game the German press is calling the "traumfinale" (the "dream final").
Playing to Dortmund's advantage this weekend is Bayern's spirited victory at the Nou Camp on Wednesday. "I'm sure we'll celebrate with a few beers tonight," said captain Phillip Lahm after the game (quote via Yahoo! Sports).
A few beers ahead of a relatively unimportant league match can be pretty detrimental: just ask the Manchester Utd side who looked a little weary at the Emirates last weekend—no doubt because they had been out painting the town red a few days earlier.
BVB may also have had a fortuitous result this week, but it was a day earlier, and they actually lost at the Bernabeu, so the celebrations might not hamper them too much.
Also in Dortmund's favour is the absence of Toni Kroos, who played a crucial goalscoring role in the 1-1 draw at the Allianz Arena earlier this season. Of course, his equivalent and the other goalscorer on that day, BVB's precocious No. 10, Mario Götze, will also be sitting this one out with injury. But in light of his forthcoming transfer to Die Roten, this may be a blessing in disguise.
Absences elsewhere on the field are what may make this game unpredictable. In light of the "traumfinale," it is likely that both sides will rest a number of key players in this bout. Bayern are still likely to focus on ball retention and physically outmatching their opponents while BVB will rely on their tried-and-trusted technique of moving the ball quickly and attacking on the break—the players who will be executing these directives are certainly up for debate.
In an instance where a second string is being used, perhaps Bayern's impressive squad depth gives them the upper hand.
Since their surprise loss to Hamburg on February 9th, however, BVB haven't taken anything less than maximum points at home in any competition, scoring an average of nearly 3.4 goals per game.
Bayern—who are suffering a crisis as figurehead president Uli Hoeness potentially faces a prison sentence—haven't won at the Westfalenstadion since 2009.
Ahead of a Champions League Final in which his side is perceived to be the underdog—at the time of writing, 62 percent of Bild readers believe Bayern will triumph—Jurgen Klopp has a point to prove in front of the famous Südtribüne.
And Klopp can prove that point. They are the team who have played the better football this season. Six months ago, this writer outlined the reasons why they should be favorites to win the Champions League, an opinion that was also mooted by Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho. It stands to reason that if they can win the European Cup at Wembley, they can win at the weekend on their own turf.
Of course, Saturday's Klassiker is the least important of the two upcoming meetings between these sides. And even if Dortmund win this battle, they are far from guaranteed to win the war against such a dominant Bayern side, who are desperate to make amends for letting the European Cup slip through their hands like they did on home soil last season.
Yet we will learn much about the Champions League final from this match, and we will see if BVB have the mettle to scupper Bayern's treble-winning ambitions.
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