Preview – 1. FCK vs. Borussia Dortmund – It was the Best of Times; it was the Worst of Times

Here we are, two matchdays away from the end of the 2011/12 season, and we have, what on paper looks like a huge yawner … freshly crowned Bundesliga Champion Dortmund vs. freshly relegated 1. FC Kaiserslautern. If this was a Serie A  match, we wouldn’t even have to play, since zero last place Italian teams have beaten first place rivals dating back to 2000. But we’re in Germany not Italy, so there’s hope. In fact, according to the same Kicker Sportmagazin statistic, German Bundesliga cellar dwellers have a 26.3% chance of beating their top ranked rivals. Want more encouraging stats? Of the 79 all-time matches played between the two, FCK has ‘only’ lost 31 and tied an incredible 24 times. In fact, the last two matches have ended in 1:1 draws making Kaiserslautern only one of 6 teams this season to tie the champs. Amazingly, Dortmund has not won in Kaiserslautern since April 1, 2001.

Ok, so let’s get back for a minute why this match should be a landslide … Dortmund’s last loss in the Bundesliga came on September 18th at the hands of Hannover, that’s 26 weeks ago, a new Bundesliga record. If this wasn’t enough wind in the Borussia’s sail, they are pushing hard to set the all time league record for points and need 6 more, wins in their last 2 games, to pass the magical 80 point mark. And finally, 19-year-old phenom Mario Götze, who has missed 17 Bundesliga matches this year due to injury, is slated to make his first start since early December.

So what does FCK have going for it heading into the ‘David vs. Goliath’ matchup besides a few key injuries to Dortmund starters Jakub Blaszczykowski (Kuba), Marcel Schmelzer and Sven Bender? … Nothing to lose. All the pressure of relegation came crashing down after last week’s win in Berlin, and now that the 2nd tier is reality and not just a threat, Balakov’s men can finally exhale. We’ll call it exhaling with baited breath since many regulars are playing for survival as the coach and GM Stefan Kuntz make a series of near term ‘hire and fire’ decisions as they look to assemble a competitive yet fiscally responsible squad. FCK management has already entered into contract negotiations with ‘young veteran’ goalie Tobias Sippel who is looking to position himself as one of the leaders of the new FCK. Defenders Alex Bugera, Matthias Abel and Florian Dick have also sought out management to negotiate new terms and according to GM Kuntz, efforts to sign German American forward Andrew Wooten are progressing in a positive manner.

Baring a substitution for Kirch (scorer of the first goal vs. Hertha) who’s suffering from the flu this week, Krassimir Balakov will stick to his winning Berlin lineup, admitting he’s a big fan of  ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. At his weekly press conference, Balakov applauded his team for sticking to his disciplined tactical game plan. “We relied on our defensive strength to ward off any Berlin attacks and did a very good job of quickly transitioning on offense and minimizing errand passes as well as mental mistakes.” FCK’s coach also expressed satisfaction with his team’s ability to finish which I strongly disagree with. At least from my armchair view, I counted at least four ‘100%’ scoring opportunities ultimately squandered by Balakov’s men. Looking ahead to Dortmund’s highly efficient yet disciplined attack, it is very questionable whether Kaiserslautern can defend as effectively.

By far the biggest motivator for the German Red Devils to show up and do well this weekend is the home crowd. The 49,780-strong faithful will witness the last Bundesliga game at the Betzenberg until at least August 2013 and the home team will do everything possible to keep their fans cheering. According to FCK veteran defender Alex Bugera, the team wants its fans to leave with a positive experience. “We want to play in an engaging manner and be ready to fight for every ball, and most importantly, show our cohesive team spirit. Our fans deserve this.” Not only do the fans deserve to see a focused and motivated FCK team, they have also earned the right to see some attractive Bundesliga football played by some of the most gifted athletes in the land … BVB welcome to the Pfalz.

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