Borussia Dortmund vs Bayern Munich – The Battle of the Shakhtar Graduates

This article originally appeared in the excellent FUTBOLGRAD.

The German Klassiker Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich is one of the most anticipated matches of the upcoming football weekend. The midweek results also mean that Borussia Dortmund are right back in the title race as the Yellow-Blacks could be closing the gap with Bayern to just two points on Saturday.

The match will also feature two Shakhtar Donetsk graduates, with the Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan playing for Borussia Dortmund and the Brazilian Douglas Costa for Bayern Munich. Both will likely play important roles in Saturday’s fixture.

MKHITARYAN AND DOUGLAS COSTA REPRESENTATIVES OF THE SHAKHTAR SCHOOL

Both players have become representative of Shakhtar Donetsk’s head coach Mircea Lucescu goal to discover and develop players. Shakhtar Donetsk bought Henrikh Mkhitaryan from city rivals Metalurh Donetsk for €5.85 million in 2010, and over the next three years Mkhitaryan developed into Shakhtar’s most important player. In 2012-13 Mkhitaryan scored 26 goals, which to this day remains a Ukrainian Premier League record. The following summer Mkhitaryan was ready to move on, and following difficult transfer negotiations Mkhitaryan was sold to Borussia Dortmund for €27.5 million—a handsome €22 million profit for Shakhtar.

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Douglas Costa meanwhile was purchased by Shakhtar Donetsk in January 2010 from the Brazilian Série A team Grêmio Foot-Ball Porto Alegrense for €8 million. Over the next four and a half years Douglas Costa was groomed by Mircea Lucescu, who developed the Brazilian into one of the most sought after wingers in European football, as his market value grew from €4 million to €23 million. His development was not lost on top European clubs, as Chelsea tried to purchase the Brazilian in January 2015.

Unlike was the case with Alex Teixeira this winter, however, Shakhtar refused to sell Douglas Costa in the winter of 2015. Instead the winger followed Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s path to the Bundesliga as the Brazilian moved to Bayern Munich for €30 million last summer—another €22 million profit for Shakhtar.

MKHITARYAN AND DOUGLAS COSTA WERE VOTED WORLD CLASS

Both players dazzled in the first half of the season and as a result were both categorized as prestigious world-class (the only two wingers to be classified as such in the Bundesliga) in the German football magazine Kicker during the Bundesliga winter break. Yet while Mkhitaryan has been able to conserve his form over the winter break, and has been outstanding in both the Bundesliga and the Europa League—where Dortmund easily eliminated FC Porto in the round of 32 and is now facing Tottenham Hotspur—Douglas Costa’s form has been somewhat lacking since the winter break.

Some of this might have to do with the fact that Bayern coach Pep Guardiola has experimented with Douglas Costa’s position on the field. The Spanish coach has moved the Brazilian to a somewhat more central role in order to accommodate as many offensive-minded players as possible. Another reason could be the fact that opposing defensemen have adapted to Douglas Costa’s style of play, as the Brazilian is no longer an unknown commodity in German football.

kicker

Another reason could be the return of Bayern legend Frank Ribéry after a prolonged injury. The German magazine Kicker suggested on Monday that with Ribéry’s return to the squad the Brazilian seemed to have suffered a loss of confidence as Ribéry has put on the pressure to regain his position on the left wing from the Brazilian.

Both Mkhitaryan and Douglas Costa did not start on Wednesday in their respective clubs games against Darmstadt (for Dortmund), and Mainz (for Bayern). In Mkhitaryan’s case this was likely a measure by Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel to give the Armenian some much needed rest before Saturday’s match against Bayern Munich—the Armenian came on in the 70th minute when Dortmund were up 2-0 and seemingly in cruise control.

BORUSSIA DORTMUND VS BAYERN MUNICH – CAN SHAKHTAR GRADUATES BE THE DECISIVE DIFFERENCE?

In the case of Douglas Costa, however, it is now likely that Frank Ribéry has regained his starting role from the Brazilian. On the other hand Douglas Costa came on in the 60th minute in Bayern’s 2-1 home defeat against Mainz. At this point Bayern was down 1-0 and Douglas Costa was a refreshing element on the left wing, with Ribéry operating slightly more in centre. This could be also an option for Saturday’s Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich clash, as Pep Guardiola will ponder his options to avoid a defeat to Borussia Dortmund.

ribery

On the other hand it will be interesting to see whether Mkhitaryan’s coach Thomas Tuchel can find the right tactical solutions for Borussia Dortmund. Bayern won the first encounter of the season 5-1 in a match that was much closer than the score line suggested, as Dortmund’s defence failed tactically to find an answer to Bayern’s fast attacking movements, which have been orchestrated to a large part by Bayern’s outstanding defender Jérôme Boateng.

Boateng will, however, be missing the match due to injury, and with Bayern’s defence seemingly shaky, Futbolgrad believes that Mkhitaryan’s club Borussia Dortmund have a real chance to open the door to an exciting title race in the German Bundesliga.

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Manuel Veth is the Editor in Chief of the fascinating Futbolgrad, a football website that covers all the post-Soviet states. You can also follow Manuel on Twitter at @homosovieticus