It may never compare to the Clasico in Spain, but in recent years Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich have developed a rivalry that means there is little hyperbole involved when describing meetings between the sides as classics. There is much anticipation then ahead of the first Bundesliga Klassiker of the season on Saturday.
Even at this early stage of the season, the match’s outcome promises to be key to the destination of the championship, which Bayern won back from Dortmund last season. After Jupp Heynckes led Bayern to an unprecedented treble last season, Pep Guardiola already has the team playing imperiously. The Bavarians have dropped just four points from their first 12 matches and already hold a four-point lead over the team they visit on Saturday, as well as Bayer Leverkusen.
Equally impressive in their early defense of the Champions League, Guardiola’s philosophy means that Bayern now have even more control of the game to go along with the intense pressing that they developed last season, a tactic borrowed from Dortmund.
What’s more is that Guardiola’s flying start has been achieved despite a rash of injuries, particularly in midfield. Thiago Alcantara, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Javi Martinez and Mario Gotze have all been unavailable for stretches this season, yet Guardiola has adapted impressively. The decision to move full-back Philipp Lahm into midfield has proved so successful that even Germany coach Joachim Low utilized him there last week.
While Thiago, Martinez and Gotze have now returned to fitness, Schweinsteiger will again be missing at the weekend and will be joined on the sidelines by Franck Ribery. The Ballon d’Or contender picked up an injury in helping France to qualify for the World Cup. His absence increases the chances that Gotze will start at the home of the club where he came through the youth ranks and left in controversial circumstances this summer.
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The Germany international’s departure illustrates the gap in resources that still exists between the clubs and makes Dortmund’s success, both domestically and in Europe, in recent years all the more impressive. Jurgen Klopp faces a massive challenge to continue that success this season, though. All was looking positive until the last two games when they suffered a home defeat to Arsenal that puts their Champions League progress in real jeopardy before a loss at Wolfsburg that means they must surely at least avoid defeat on Saturday if they are to remain genuine contenders for the title.
Like Bayern, Dortmund have been hit by injury problems this campaign, but, unlike their rivals, they lack the depth to cope so seamlessly. Key midfielder Ilkay Gundogan has made one appearance this season through injury, yet it is as the back where their chief injury problems lie. Indeed, against Bayern Klopp will be without his entire first-choice defense.
Lukasz Piszczek has yet to appear this term, while center-back Neven Subotic suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Wolfsburg defeat. If that weren’t bad enough, both Mats Hummels and Marcel Schmelzer were injured on international duty in the past week. Veteran former Germany international Manuel Friedrich has been drafted in on a short-term deal and is likely to be thrust into the side at the Westfalenstadion.
Against the attacking might of Bayern, it would take an incredible effort for Dortmund to emerge with something from the game. Dortmund may have won when the sides last met in the German Super Cup, but that was when Guardiola was still trying to get the balance of his side right. It is difficult to see a similar result on Saturday and Bayern could take a big step toward reclaiming the Bundesliga title.
Prediction: Borussia Dortmund 1-2 Bayern Munich