As fate would have it -- and one has to assume it is fate, rather than something more sinister -- Mario Gotze has been ruled out of the Champions League final when his current team, Borussia Dortmund, will take on the club he has agreed to join for next season, Bayern Munich. The presence of Gotze was just one of many captivating storylines that make Saturday’s all German-clash at Wembley so eagerly anticipated.
For one thing, it is a rare final where it would be hard to argue that the two best teams in Europe this season are not present. Bayern Munich have arguably been the class of the Champions League. A tight matchup was expected in the quarterfinals when they met Italian champions Juventus, but the Bavarians eased through with back-to-back 2-0 wins. In the semifinals they further impressed against the best side in Europe over the past five years as they pounded Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate.
Bayern have also strolled to the Bundesliga title winning it an earlier stage than any other side in German history. While Dortmund have been a long way off the pace domestically, in Europe their performances have been superb. Having topped a group including Real Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax, Jurgen Klopp’s young side overcame some jitters with an extraordinary late comeback to defeat Malaga in the last eight. And in the semifinals they proved that they belong at Europe’s top table with a stunning victory over Madrid.
There is also the sense of David against Goliath that adds interest and spice to any match. Bayern, the historical power in Germany, are focused on proving that their domination remains at home while establishing themselves as the kings of Europe after losing two Champions League finals in the past three seasons. Yet, Dortmund, with their exciting squad, has somehow managed to compete and did even more when they won back-to-back Bundesliga titles between 2010 and 2012. The fact that they have half the wage bill of Bayern says something for how well Dortmund have done.
It is that fact financial discrepancy, though, that also at least in part explains why Gotze has been lured to Munich and why Dortmund face such a challenge to ensure that Saturday’s Champions League final will not be the zenith of the Klopp era at the Westfalenstadion. As if losing Germany’s biggest young talent and the symbol of Dortmund’s revival wasn’t enough, it is widely believed that their prolific and influential striker Robert Lewandowski has also agreed to join Munich.
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Yet, Dortmund have recovered from setbacks in the past. Following their league and cup double last season they lost Shinji Kagawa to global powerhouse Manchester United, a year after losing the Bundesliga player of the season, Nuri Sahin, to Real Madrid. And preparations are already being made for life after Gotze with reported interest in more of Europe’s leading young talent like Christian Eriksen and Kevin de Bruyne. Life without Gotze now begins earlier than expected on Saturday and his absence could mean the underrated heartbeat of the side Ilkay Gundogan stepping forward or the ever reliable Kevin Grosskreutz coming into the lineup and the talented Marco Reus moving in from the left.
Munich provide phenomenally strong competitors, but it would be foolhardy to write off Dortmund either to regenerate again next season or upsetting the apple cart once more on Europe’s biggest stage at Wembley.
Betting odds: Bayern Munich are odds-on favorites to lift the trophy, priced at 2/5 with Paddy Power and Borussia Dortmund available at 15/8.
TV Information: The Champions League final will kick-off at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Fox.