Bundesliga: Is Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich the New Clasico?
As Gerard Pique turned the ball into his own net Wednesday for Bayern Munich's second goal of the night, his face was stricken with a combination of pain, exhaustion and realisation.
As the German champions were close to concluding their second rousing demolition of his side in a week, the Blaugrana centre-back appeared to realize something that he later admitted in a post-match interview: Barcelona "are not the best anymore."
Barca have been the virtually undisputed kings of Europe since Pep Guardiola earned 14 trophies across four seasons with his inimitable brand of beautiful "tiki taka." Under Guardiola, football became an art form, and there was a consensus that we were witnessing the actions of one of the greatest sides in history.
But no dynasties last forever, and it looks as if Guardiola has perfectly timed his arrival with the Europe's new unstoppable powerhouse.
With fitting symmetry, this week, Spain's second-best team have also been eliminated from the Champions League by Germany's second-best team.
Over four European Cup matches with Real Madrid this season, Borussia Dortmund were the far superior team in at least three-and-a-half of them, outclassing the Spaniards with their power, fast counter-attacks and superb efforts from superlative traditional No. 9 Robert Lewandowski.
While many expected (and hoped) to see an all-Spanish affair at Wembley on May 25, we will now be treated to the first all-German European Cup final. To borrow a phrase often used at a royal building a few miles from the Champions League final venue, there appears to have been a changing of the guard in terms of Europe's best league.
On Thursday, Time ran the headline, "What's the German for 'El Clasico?"
The answer is Der Klassiker, and it is on the verge of overtaking Real versus Barca as Europe's premier domestic rivalry.
Do you prefer watching Bundesliga or La Liga?
We will be treated to the ninth Klassiker of the past three seasons Saturday, when the two sides face off at BVB's Westfalenstadion—a venue with a deserved reputation as one of Europe's best for its electrifying atmosphere, cheap tickets, free flowing beer and world-class football.
Saturday's dress rehearsal will probably be contested with starting XIs made up of youth and reserve teams as both sides save their biggest weapons for the main event three weeks later, but matchups such as the riveting DFB Pokal Final last season—in which Lewandowski put away a hat trick in a 5-2 victory for BVB—are slowly stealing attention from the Spanish equivalent.
Those who champion the merits of the Bundesliga—such as this writer—are often accused of being "hipsters" or bandwagon jumpers, but the proof is in the pudding. Take a look at the 2012-13 UEFA coefficients, which determine the seeding of teams in UEFA competition draws.
The top two teams are Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Real Madrid are third, while Barcelona are fourth. The previous season, the Spanish clubs were in the top two slots, Bayern were fourth and Dortmund were 31st.
In the Champions League semifinals, we have seen two German teams who were fitter, stronger and hungrier than their Spanish counterparts. This is a reflection of the strength of the league in which they play in.
In reality, Barca and Real are only really tested domestically in six or seven games a season. At least a dozen games are cakewalks. In the Bundesliga, there is much more parity throughout the league.
This is mainly due to the inherent stability of the German top flight: While a large proportion of Spanish clubs are on the brink of economic crisis, every single Bundesliga side is financially stable. All but four sides are at least 50 percent fan owned, and all must break even and operate in a financially responsible manner (something that Bayern president Uli Hoeness is admittedly having trouble with lately).
The Bundesliga's responsible model and resultant strength has already forced Spanish football league (LFP) president Javier Tebas to insist on tighter financial controls (via Yahoo! UK). When German football is setting an example for Spanish football, it is obvious the tides are turning.
Of course, Der Klassiker has a long way to go before it catches up to El Clasico in terms of global reach and fan interest.
Recent editions of the Spanish rivalry have had estimated worldwide viewing figures of 400 million (via Goal.com). It is fervently followed many thousands of miles from Spain. In Iraq, for example, passions ran so high at a recent match that a Barcelona fan beheaded his Madrid-supporting friend during an argument.
According to bundesligaexport.com, the German top flight can be seen in over 200 countries, but it certainly lacks the appeal and glamour of Spain's biggest domestic rivalry.
Most international broadcasters were surely hoping for an all-Spanish final and will expect less interest in the Wembley Klassiker.
But El Clasico cannot rest on the laurels of its reputation. Football is a fickle beast, and as the Bundesliga steps into the spotlight for its turn as Europe's best and most exciting league, Der Klassiker can only gain prominence.
If we are treated to a thrilling, high-scoring Champions League final like the aforementioned DFB Pokal final of last year, the changing of the guard will almost certainly be expedited.
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