Bayern Munich will look to banish the demons of recent heartache when they face their third Champions League final in four years at Wembley on Saturday. Having lost the previous two, Bayern now fittingly face their biggest domestic rivals, Borussia Dortmund, looking to complete their season of redemption.
Not only did Bayern lose the chance to lift the European Cup on home soil with an agonizing defeat to Chelsea on penalties 12 months ago, but the Bavarians also finished runners up in both the Bundesliga and the DFB-Pokal. Those two domestic competitions were won by Dortmund as Jurgen Klopp’s young side claimed a second-straight league title and destroyed Munich 5-2 in the cup final for a fifth consecutive victory over their gloried rivals.
But Jupp Heynckes appears to have used that disappointment as the most potent of motivations to drive his side onto phenomenal success this season. Having won the Bundesliga with weeks to spare and with a DFB-Pokal final still to play, it has been a fine sendoff for Heynckes before the veteran coach makes way for Pep Guardiola. Yet, if they were to lose to Dortmund at Wembley the overriding feeling from the campaign would again be of bitter failure. Heyckes, though, is not allowing any negative thoughts.
“I've always tried to think positively -- I know what my team can achieve,” he said, according to UEFA’s website. “I said that before Juventus, and before Barcelona when we weren't the favorites. I've always thought we could win this competition. We have an extraordinary team and they play as a unit. If we can draw on that tomorrow, we're going to win the match.”
For Dortmund, the final marks the biggest milestone yet in an extraordinary journey for the club under the tenure of the charismatic Klopp. Having dominated Germany for two years, the focus has clearly been on making their mark in Europe this season and they have done so to enthralling effect. After scoring two injury-time goals to see off Malaga, Dortmund destroyed Real Madrid in the first leg of their semifinal before doing enough in the second leg to reach their first Champions League final since they lifted the trophy for the only time in their history, in 1997. Yet, Klopp is eager put his team in the role of plucky outsiders.
“You need to enjoy what you're doing and focus on your task, but be aware that it can go wrong," he explained. "People have climbed Mount Everest aware they might have to turn back ten meters from the top. They try anyway and so will we."
Dortmund will have to work hard to make sure Saturday is not the zenith of their journey. The prodigious Mario Gotze has already agreed to join Bayern and striker Robert Lewandowski is expected to follow suit. As fate would have it, Gotze will miss the final against his new club with a hamstring injury. The reliable Kevin Grosskreutz is likely to come into the lineup, with Marco Reus moving into the middle behind Lewandowski.
Bayern are also missing their gifted attacking midfielder, with Toni Kross still on the sidelines following a groin injury suffered in the first leg of the quarterfinal victory over Juventus. The only other absentee is Holger Badstuber. The defender recently suffered a recurrence of the cruciate knee ligament injury that has seen him ruled out since December and will miss another 10 months.
Bayern Munich (probable)
D: Lahm, Boateng, Dante, Alaba
M: Schweinsteiger, Martinez
Robben, Muller, Ribery
Borussia Dortmund (probable)
D: Piszczek, Subotic, Hummels, Schmelzer
M: Bender, Gundogan
Blaszczykowski, Reus, Grosskreutz
Prediction: Despite being an all-German clash, Saturday’s final promises to be an enthralling encounter for all. Dortmund dominated Bayern for two seasons with their incessant pressing and lighting fast transitions. But the Bavarians have responded this campaign by adopting some of Dortmund’s pressing tactics that has seen luxury players like Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben add an extraordinary work rate to their game.
The added quality without the ball was displayed stunningly in a 7-0 aggregate win over Barcelona in the semifinals. But that ability is matched when they do have the ball. Only pass-masters Barcelona have a higher percentage of possession in Europe’s top leagues this season. Expect Bayern to have the bulk of possession at Wembley, with Dortmund looking to profit with their quick counters. It is when trying to break forward that Dortmund will miss Gotze and his brilliant linkup play with Lewandowski and Reus.
The crucial battle is likely to be in midfield. While Dortmund have ample quality with the brilliant Ilkay Gundogan, in particular, Bayern’s duo of Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger has been Europe’s best this season and has the perfect blend of technical ability and physical force.
Dortmund certainly have the ability to upset the applecart once more, especially if Bayern’s fears of yet another agonizing disappointment set in, but it is the Bavarians that should finally get their hands on Europe’s most-coveted trophy once more.
Bayern Munich 2-1 Borussia Dortmund
Where to watch: The Champions League final will kick-off at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Fox, with a live stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.