The “It’s Cool to Think Der Klassiker Doesn’t Matter” BVB-Bayern Match Preview

Fancy yourself a cool kid now, huh? Think you’re too cool for gettin’ all excited about Saturday’s BVB-Bayern der Klassiker match in Dortmund, eh?

Think again.

You know you’ll be watching. You can’t help it. And it’s totally okay.

Remember the good old days just a season or two ago when der Klassiker was the Bundesliga’s best show in town? We were like …

Der Klassiker cat meme

But now we’ve wised up. Our hipster ways demand higher standards. Der Klassiker? So 2013. And you tell yourself it’s okay to act unimpressed ‘n all …

Der Klassiker willy wonka meme

But you know you care about Saturday’s match.

Bayern apologist Rick Joshua and BVB apologist Travis Timmons are here to tell it’s okay to let your inner little girl or inner little boy out and go batsh*t crazy on Saturday for the big game.

So allow the apologists to break down Satuday’s big game for you.

Hinspiel

Rick: Whenever FC Bayern take on Dortmund, form just goes flying out of the window. In fact, one needn’t bother about the form book at all: just rip it up, sit back and experience the ride.

When the two sides met in week ten Bayern were flying high on twenty-one points: unbeaten, dominant and already on course for another Bundesliga title. Dortmund meanwhile were sitting on a measly seven points, with just goal difference separating them from Keller-dwellers Werder Bremen. The form book suggested an easy win for Bayern; all of us however knew different.

The Red Dragons’ lair in London was teeming with red and white, and you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. A few pre-match Weizenbiers in, everyone was champing at the bit.

Bayern bossed the possession, but were frustratingly stifled by Dortmund’s constant pressing and willingness to chase every ball. Then, as the clock ticked past the half hour mark, the oh so familiar scene of Dortmund shirts haring down the pitch and outflanking the Bayern defence. Shinji Kagawa to the fast-moving Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and a perfect cross for Marco Reus who somehow managed to steal in between Jérôme Boateng and Medhi Benatia to head home.

But on we went. In fact, the noise was simply ramped up, along with the terrace song made famous on that evening by Bastian Schweinsteiger. Half time came though, with the scoreboard still reading 1-0 to Dortmund. Bayern upped the ante considerably in the second half, but we were still kept waiting. The hour mark passed. Then, before we knew it there were just twenty minutes remaining. Then, on seventy-two minutes, the breakthrough. One couldn’t have written a better script: sub Franck Ribéry’s pass was helped on by pantomime villain Neven Subotić, and there was a sense of inevitability about the man who swept the ball into the net. The previous season Robert Lewandowski was playing in the lurid road worker yellow of Dortmund; now, he was finding the back of the net as a Bayern player.

At that point we just had to win. It was that simple, and with eight minutes remaining Subotić, under pressure from Ribéry, couldn’t help himself. The Frenchman went down in the box, referee Manuel Gräfe pointed to the spot, and Subotić protested in a way only Subotić could protest. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Arjen Robben stepped up and delivered the killer blow, his penalty blow-out days long behind him. The cheers almost blasted a hole in the ceiling, beer was finding its way onto the floor, and then, that song again.

*****

Travis: what an agonizing match in Munich back on November 1st. I still remember it. Dortmund opened a lead when Reus scored at 31’. I thought, surely the boys will do it. They were more aggressive than Bayern and managed to disrupt the home side’s passing game enough to snuff out productive scoring chances. Halftime came and went. Twenty minutes of 2nd half action came and went. Bayern slowly, but inexorably, increase their menace. Oh, it was painful!

Then it happened.

Lewandowski, damnit.

The fresh-from-Dortmund man leveled the score at 72’. What an insult. I nearly knocked the laptop off the desk. From this point, the match was Bayern’s. They didn’t let go. The menace increased even more. And Robben delivered the mercy goal at 85’. Bayern win 2-1. The Dortmund slump only intensified to maddening degree in later weeks.

In the final reckoning, Bayern out-possessed (65%) and out-shot BVB (25/14 to 10/4) and basically out-bossed BVB by a doggone country mile.

I’ve been waiting for revenge for half a year. And it will come. No mercy. No quarter. The Yellow Wall will be surging. Red rain, red rain, red rain!

 

Current Form

Rick: After the surprise 4-1 mauling in Wolfsburg Pep Guardiola’s side had been banging in the goals – eight against HSV, seven in the Champions’ League against Shakhtar Donetsk, half a dozen against plummeting Paderborn 07- but in their last outing at the Allianz against third-placed Borussia Mönchengladbach they would come a cropper. In fact, nothing went right. Robben made his way off the pitch injured midway through the first half which blunted the Bayern attack, the visitors slowly started to smell blood, and Manuel Neuer had what one could call a rare evening.

Two gaffes from the Bayern ‘keeper and a blunted attack made for Bayern’s first home defeat in eleven months, a result that kept the chasing pack interested. Remember, at this exact same time last season – match day twenty-seven – Bayern just needed a win at Hertha BSC to wrap up the title.

On the back of this first home defeat of the season, things are perfectly set for the journey to the Ruhrpott.

******

Travis: still so confusing. In their last five Bundesliga matches, BVB have won 3 and drawn 2. The draws (both 0-0) were troubling, given Dortmund’s stale and limpid “attack.” However, this concern somewhat dissipated after the exciting 3-2 win at Hannover 96. How quickly we forget our own narratives. Thankfully, BVB have long moved beyond last place and the regulation gossip.

Where are we now? BVB sit at 10th place, a point below both Werder Bremen and Eintracht Frankfurt. After these sides, FC Augsburg’s 6th (guaranteed) Europa league spot is only 5 points away. So please don’t whine that this der Klassiker doesn’t matter. It does. Three points could slingshot Dortmund into 8th place. And don’t forget the stake for Bayern with Robben, Ribéry, and Alaba injured an extended winless streak (and VfL seizing 1st place?) is a faint possibility.

 

Attack

Rick: The last few weeks have been a nightmare for the Bayern coach, and for the attack in particular. With Franck Ribéry already out of the picture, Arjen Robben’s withdrawal with a stomach injury against Mönchengladbach was a bitter blow. The deadly “Robbéry” combination has often been the difference for Bayern in tight matches, and if just to compound matters Austrian star David Alaba is also out for at least two months after sustaining a knee injury in a friendly for Austria against Bosnia-Herzegovina.

With these three influential players out and the talented Thiago still not match fit, it is now up to the rest to not just make up the slack to pull themselves up to the level required. While Thomas Müller is more than capable of filling in for Robben out on the right – albeit with his own unique idiosyncratic awkward style rather than the direct dribbling of the Dutchman – elsewhere some serious uplift is needed. Juan Bernat has shown that he can control things nicely out on the left and has arguably been one of Bayern’s best buys in recent years, but there will be a lot more focus on the underperforming Mario Götze and the so far less than prolific Robert Lewandowski.

Given the additional frisson of both Götze and Lewandowski playing at their former home ground, there’s perhaps another story just waiting to be told. All of Bavaria expects, and it would be one mighty fine day for these guys to finally deliver.

*****

Travis: arguably Dortmund’s biggest problem right now. Hear me out. Sides like HSV, Köln, and Juventus discovered the BVB’s kryptonite: play a deep back line, play a bank of midfielders in front of the back four. Then clear the ball past midfield when BVB turn it over – probably with a feckless cross into the box with their attacker outnumbered 1-to-3 – and repeat. We’ve seen that this strategy deprives Dortmund of the raking passes made during rapid counters in open space, leaving die Schwarzgelb to butcher up the consequently slow build up play. BVB struggle mightily with slow build up play. Give them 60% of the ball and you’re guaranteed at least a draw right now.

Except that Bayern won’t. Pep’s die Roten are not built to replicate the HSV/Köln/Juve strategy. Hence my hope for this match. Dortmund’s attack will be more functional in this match simply because attacking sequences will occur through the kind of open transitional play that Klopp’s sides crave. The irony is that BVB’s attack will have a chance because of Bayern’s high ball-possession style.

Oh, and Gündogan is back – he didn’t play in the November 1st fixture. Bayern hasn’t dealt with Illy’s svelte midfield ways since that infamous Champions League final in 2013.

 

Defence

Rick: While the raw statistics present the picture of a solid Bayern defence with just thirteen goals conceded in twenty-six Bundesliga outings, those of us who have been watching the team closely know that this is something of an illusion. It is worth noting that of those thirteen goals, nine have been shipped in the nine Rückrunde matches played so far – compared to just four in the entire Hinrunde.

Jérôme Boateng has improved in leaps and bounds and is now the rock at the back, but there are still serious doubts about those around him. Danté has created many a heart palpitation among the residents of the Südkurve, and Medhi Benatia continues to struggle with injury and has not really convinced. Despite his much-welcomed comeback for both club and country Holger Badstuber is still not quite the player he was before his serious injury in 2012, while Rafinha will always be a fringe player. Much may end up resting on skipper Philipp Lahm, who is another who has just made it back off the injury list. That is, of course, if he is fit to start.

The defensive midfield has also created more than a few problems for the coach, who has insisted on cycling between Bastian Schweinsteiger, Xabi Alonso and the two old heads together – an idea which looked good on paper but has since turned into something of a soggy Guglhupf. Against a Dortmund side known for their hard pressing and pace through the centre of the pitch, this could prove to be another weak point, and the likes of Sebastian Rode – younger, fitter, and far more mobile – may need to step up to the plate in a more defensive role.

*****

Travis: statistically, BVB have really tightened up their Bundesliga defense during the Rueckrunde. Opponent goals and shots on target allowed per 90 are fewer. Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic are marking and challenging with fine precision – finally! These two centerbacks have been especially effective in defending 1-on-1 situations, allowing Dortmund to press opponents high up the pitch. I hope Matty H and Nevy bring their luck on Saturday.

The fullbacks are the tricky corners of the pitch for BVB right now. Ollie Kirch has been filling in for the injured Piszczek at right back, while Sokratis has filled in during the last couple matches at left back. However, the hell I know who will play at full back this weekend. Just looks at the options (many boys returning from injury!):

  • Left back: Schmelzer, Durm, or Dudziak.
  • Right back: Sokratis or Grosskreutz.

No matter who starts, BVB is blessed beyond measure that rockin’ Robben (the league’s best player right now, easily!) is out. As are Funky Franck Ribéry and the blazing David Alaba, who’s out for the rest of the season. DEVASTATING losses for Bayern. Although Ribéry has needed “Robbéry” to be worth a plugged nickel from the left flank this season (i.e. Ribery alone without Robben is doomed), we now know that not even half of the “Robbéry” will be on the pitch in Saturday’s match.

Perhaps even more devastating is Alaba’s injury. The Austrian internation is at the peak of his remarkable powers along the left flank, in the midfield, or off freekicks. Without him and “Robbéry,” I can see Bayern’s attack really struggling to create menacing chances in this match. Because, under Pep, Bayern’s attack is oftentimes reductively funneled to either flank corner (via Ribery or Robben). Removing Robben alone almost totally flattens die Roten’s attack. However, removing Robben, Ribery, and Alaba are catastrophic, despite the talents of Muller, Götze, and Schweinsteiger on the pitch.

You protest? You say, Lewandowski not a talent? Lewa … he be dead to me …

And it was declared: Woe be upon Bayern. Great woe, indeed!

Unless Thomas Müller becomes the Incredible Hulk and tears BVB limbs like sticks and Mario Götze becomes the Flash around the box, I foresee a dry attacking performance from Bayern.

I’ll put it this way: it’s not Dortmund’s defending I’m particularly worried about.

 

Goalkeeping

Rick: For every previous week of the season, I could have simply copied and pasted the same thing. Manuel Neuer: sweeper-keeper, unbeatable, magnificent, [add superlative here]. However last week’s off day showed that even Neuer is human.

That said, for this high-profile game I am expecting him to be back to his best – with the added bonus that he now takes throw-ins too.

*****

Travis: Roman, oh Roman. Where art thou? You seem to age before my eyes. Weidenfeller’s bill is messy this season: balls have squirted through and around him, his torso has left his feet and legs behind, his instincts obscured by sneaky benders, etc. Tough, tough. Oh, and a long benching as the Hinrunde ended.

But gracious, lovely Roman is still there. And I still trust. But it’s been shakier stuff than usual this season.

 

Coaching

Rick: With his squad options severely limited by Bayern’s ongoing injury problems, it’s back up against the wall time for Pep Guardiola. The Catalan coach has made a point of rotating his squad, but this week may well be left with little room to manoeuvre if things don’t go his way early on.

Compared to previous seasons there is little at stake directly between the two teams, but while Bayern will be looking to get things back on track Dortmund, after their earlier travails, are closing in on the European places. With Dortmund expected to press hard, Guardiola may have his work cut out if Bayern fall behind and are left having to chase the game.

There are two big issues: does he play the Dreierketter or stick with a more stable Viererkette, and are we going to see the Schweinsteiger-Alonso partnership again?

*****

Travis: Kloppo has an intermediate-level algebra problem to solve for at full back, but little else to change in his line up. So I imagine his job has been mostly psychological with dallops of man-care this last week.

Outside the fullback puzzle, except to see Hummels and Subotic at centerback; Gündogan and Bender in defensive midfield; Reus, Kagawa, and Kampl (or even Kuba?) in attacking midfield; and Auba on top.

As for in-match tactics, I don’t think Kloppo will have many conundrums to ponder, thanks to Pep’s side doing Pep-side things (i.e. high possession, ball circulation, crossing passing lanes, and probing probing probing probing). So Kloppo can simply order up the usual: a midfield gegen-press with hope riding on transitional play. That, and hope riding on a spot-on challenge or two from Mats.

 

Intangibles

Rick: The one big intangible thing is that good old form book. Bayern have handed out some serious walloppings this season, but are coming into this game on the back of what was arguably their worst performance of the season so far. Dortmund on the other hand are unbeaten in their last seven matches, but in between the decent results have been toothlessly insipid. But hey, as I said, just chuck that form book out of the window. This is Der Klassiker.

*****

Travis: big matches like this always seem to have a “one-off” quality about them, sort of like a knockout game. Form, trends, streaks, etc. seem is disappear under a cascade of raw emotion, jittery play, the unexpected, and atmospherics. I don’t think Saturday will be any different, no matter how confident I am about a Dortmund win.

 

Prediction

Rick: This is a real head versus heart battle for me. With a fully fit Robben, Ribéry and Alaba I couldn’t see much beyond a Bayern victory. However with these three out it will be a case of the rest digging deep. Really deep.

Weighing everything up, if Bayern fall behind they could be in trouble. However, if Die Roten keep things together at the back they should have just about enough to see their way through a Dortmund defence that has looked porous and uncoordinated. Müller always ups his game in these contests, and it will really come down to Götze and Lewandowski. I still worry about the capricious Dortmund attack though. When they are bad, they are awful. But when they click… Gulp.

As for a score… 2-1 Bayern. But it will be close. Oh so close.

*****

Travis: dear Bayern, wanna find out what back-to-back losses feels like again? Step on up. Join the mortals. 3-1 Dortmund. Make me look foolish, die Roten. I dare you.

 

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