Germany will take over London’s Wembley stadium on Saturday as Bayern Munich take on Borussia Dortmund with the most desired trophy in the European game on the line. For Bayern, the historic giants of the German game, it is their third Champions League final in four years, although they are looking to lift the European Cup for the first time since 2001. Dortmund, by contrast, are the young upstarts. Having knocked Bayern off their perch at home by claiming back-to-back Bundesliga titles between 2010 and 2012, Dortmund’s incredible support are relishing the chance to become kings of Europe.
That Bayern have recently poached the face of Dortmund’s present and future, Mario Gotze, from behind their rivals’ backs and are attempting a repeat with their leading marksman Robert Lewandowski only adds further subplots to the intriguing matchup.
In Dortmund’s title winning seasons they beat Bayern in all four league meetings as well as a 5-2 demolition in the DFB Pokal final a year ago. Since then, though, Bayern have gone undefeated against Die Schwarzgelben and claimed the Bundesliga title earlier in the season than any German team in history. In Europe they have been equally impressive, having beaten Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate in the semifinals with two dominant displays against a side previously considered one of, if not the, best in history. There is more than a suggestion, however, that Dortmund have been focusing strongly on making their mark on the Champions League at the expense of domestic success this campaign. Their performance in hammering Real Madrid 4-1 at the Westfalenstadion was scintillating.
There is so much with which to be excited about for the Champions League final, here are three factors which could make the difference on the night.
Schweinsteiger Vs Gundogan Back in February, former German midfield great Gunter Netzer -- a man who should know a thing or two about playmakers -- said that Ilkay Gundogan was the future as the playmaker for Germany ahead of the experienced standard bearer for Bayern and the national team Bastian Schweinsteiger. The comments were bold but not without foundation.
Gundogan has been outstanding in his second season at Dortmund and, while often not gaining the attention of some of his teammates, has become the fulcrum of the side. In the destruction of Madrid, the 22-year-old was sensational. Not only did he dictate the tempo on the ball with his quality passing and ability to surge forward with the ball, he also set the pace for Dortmund’s relentless pressing off the ball with his relentless engine.
It would be wrong, though, to suggest that Schweinsteiger is a fading force. While his last season was hampered by injury, he has come on strong again this campaign and, although less dynamic than Gundogan, is a vital cog at the base of Bayern’s exceptional midfield. The absence of the injured Toni Kroos from the Bayern side could help Gundogan to have more space than he otherwise would have and that could be key in deciding which deep-lying midfielder has the crucial bigger impact at Wembley.
The Pressing Battle Much of Dortmund’s winning run over Bayern in the previous two seasons was down to their work off the ball in pressurizing their opponents and winning the ball back before launching lightning-fast counter attacks. This season, the Bavarians have taken a leaf out of their rivals’ book and it has paid huge dividends.
At times one has had to rub their eyes in disbelief at the sight of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery working as tirelessly off the ball as both oft-criticized wingers did against Barcelona. It is a credit to manager Juup Heynckes that he has got the stars of a club derogatorily nicknamed FC Hollywood to employ such a work ethic. It also likely reflects the determination of the squad to make amends for last season when they finished runners up in the Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup.
Any slackening off by either side on Saturday will likely be cruelly exposed.
Robert Lewandowski If there is one position on the pitch where Dortmund have a clear advantage over their opponents it is up front. Any debate about the validity of that claim need only be taken up with Bayern themselves, which is pushing hard to sign Dortmund striker Lewandowski for next season. Heynckes’s options are not bad by any means; Mario Mandzukic is a willing worker, while few players in Europe have been more prolific than Mario Gomez in recent seasons. Yet Mandzukic does not quite possess the cutting edge of the very best strikers, while Gomez lacks an all-round game and can also see his finishing desert him in high pressure situations -- as it did in last year’s Champions League final.
Lewandowski, in contrast, is the total package. Exceptional in bringing the likes of Gotze and Marco Reus into the game, he can also manufacture opportunities for himself in the box before generally finishing clinically. The Poland international could be the difference maker in inflicting a defeat on the side he looks set to join in the summer.
Betting Odds: Bayern Munich are 2/5 favorites to lift the trophy with Bet 365, while Borussia Dortmund are priced at 21/10.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.