The two biggest clubs in German football and winners of the last four Bundesliga titles will meet at Wembley on Saturday, looking to win European football's biggest prize, the UEFA Champions League.
Four-time European champions Bayern Munich will head into the match as favourites against Borussia Dortmund, whose sole European Cup triumph came in 1997. Die Bayern finished some 25 points ahead of Die Borussen in the Bundesliga this season, having been edged out by Jurgen Klopp's side in each of the last two campaigns.
The Bavarians arrive at the final looking to avenge final defeats in two of the last three seasons, having succumbed to Jose Mourinho's Inter in 2010 before losing out on home soil to Chelsea last season. Jupp Heynckes side have been in irresistible form more recently, however, with demolitions of Juventus (quarter-final) and Barcelona (semi-final) proving their class.
BVB arrive after beating Real Madrid in the semi-finals (4-3 on aggregate) and having squeaked past another Spanish side, Malaga, in the last eight, when they were just three minutes from elimination.
Predicted Starting Lineups
The Bayern side which was so outstanding in hammering Barcelona both at the Allianz Arena and at Camp Nou pretty much selects itself going into the final.
The injury to the brilliant midfield schemer Toni Kroos is enough to ensure Arjen Robben continues wide on the right in Heynckes' preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, with Thomas Muller continuing in a central role behind lone striker Mario Mandzukic.
The only real selection headache for Heynckes revolves around who partners with first-choice defender Dante at the heart of the side's defence. Nonetheless, the ex-Manchester City defender Jerome Boateng is expected to be given the nod, having been Dante's preferred partner for much of the season, with Belgian Daniel van Buyten missing out.
Predicted Starting XI: Neuer; Lahm, Boateng, Dante, Alaba; Javi Martinez, Schweinsteiger; Robben, Muller, Ribery; Mandzukic. (4-2-3-1)
Jurgen Klopp's side have already suffered a blow in the build-up to the final, with the news that the outstanding Mario Gotze, set to move to opponents Bayern during the summer, will miss out through injury.
In his absence, the key decision resides in not only who replaces the attacking midfielder—club captain Sebastian Kehl, Nuri Sahin or Kevin Grosskreutz—but also whether the side stick with their usual 4-2-3-1 formation or utilise a 4-5-1/4-3-2-1 amalgamation which has been preferred in recent fixtures with Bayern.
Given Grosskreutz's energetic style and performance in the recent league clash between the two, expect him to be given the nod in a tight midfield trio alongside regulars Sven Bender and Ilkay Gundogan.
The only other doubt currently surrounds centre-back Mats Hummels and his ankle injury, but he is likely to start. Felipe Santana is on standby.
Predicted Starting XI: Weidenfeller; Piszczek, Subotic, Hummels, Schmelzer; Bender, Gundogan, Grosskreutz; Blaszczykowski, Reus; Lewandowski. (4-3-2-1)
Bayern have had the better of the meetings between the two sides this season, remaining unbeaten in four matches over the course of 2012-13 (2 wins, 2 draws).
Nevertheless, Dortmund got the better of last season's biggest matches towards the end of the campaign— Winning the DFB Pokal final 5-2 and a late-season league match 1-0, which acted as a virtual title decider.
Last Six Meetings:
May 5 2013: Borussia Dortmund 1-1 Bayern Munich (Bundesliga)
February 27 2013: Bayern Munich 1-0 Borussia Dortmund (German Cup)
December 1 2012: Bayern Munich 1-1 Borussia Dortmund (Bundesliga)
August 12 2012: Bayern Munich 2-1 Borussia Dortmund (German Super Cup)
May 12 2012: Borussia Dortmund 5-2 Bayern Munich (German Cup)
April 11 2012: Borussia Dortmund 1-0 Bayern Munich (Bundesliga)
Of course, all which has gone before will mean very little come Saturday's final.
Key Areas to Watch on Saturday
Bayern's Wing Prowess
Since Toni Kroos injury and Arjen Robben's return to the Bayern starting lineup, there has been a noticeable increase in the side's attacking threat down either flank. Thomas Muller, fine player though he is and scorer of crucial goals throughout his fledgling career, isn't as direct as the Dutchman when he starts out wide, particularly in terms of his ability to carry the ball considerable distances towards the opposition goal.
On the left, Franck Ribery has been in outstanding form recently, and he was at his mesmeric best against Gladbach this past weekend, scoring twice and assisting Robben's winner. His link-up with David Alaba, the adventurous full-back, offers Bayern a constant threat, whether dominating the game or on the counter-attack.
Additionally, watch for the stealthy movement of Muller, who despite nominally being selected as a No. 10, naturally drifts towards the right flank, where he will create overloads with both Robben and Philipp Lahm.
The Tactics of Jurgen Klopp
The 4-2-3-1 has been a staple of Dortmund's success since Jurgen Klopp's arrival from Mainz in 2008.
However, the formidable pairing of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez has seen the Dortmund boss become more cautious in recent clashes between the two sides, adding an extra body into the centre of his side's midfield.
Usually it has been the utility man Kevin Grosskreutz, and with Mario Gotze unavailable, such a move to the aforementioned 4-5-1/4-3-2-1 formation seems likely once again.
Whilst selecting the more defensively aware, high-energy style of Grosskreutz over the more cultured Nuri Sahin may appear a reactive move in the absence of Gotze, it also allows Klopp more in-game flexibility without the need for substitutions. Grosskretuz has started in both full-back positions, central midfield, on either flank and even had a stint in goal after Roman Weidenfeller's red card this past weekend. His adaptability makes BVB tactically more flexible depending on circumstance.
Ceding the High Press
Both teams have made their way to the final of this season's competition through a mixture of devastating attacking play and the use of relentless pressure against opposing defences. Both sides' use of the high press has been particularly impressive at different parts of the tournament—Bayern especially against Juventus in their quarter-final first leg and Dortmund in their semi-final first leg against Real Madrid.
Nonetheless, both sides won't be able to dominate proceedings, and one will eventually have to cede to the other in that regard. With that in mind, expect BVB to follow the lines of recent matches between the two, allowing Bayern to dominate possession whilst sitting deep and keeping compact, before looking to counter-attack.
If the game follows such a pattern, Marco Reus and Kuba Blaszczykowski will be key protagonists for BVB, with their ability to transition from deep positions to support Robert Lewandowski.
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