I could start this article by pontificating about rivalry. I could tell you that it doesn’t come much bigger than this and all that mumbo jumbo. I don’t need to do that, it’s already obvious. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund is probably one of the biggest games in Europe, you already know that. There is much more at stake this afternoon at the Allianz Arena though than bragging rights over a team that plies its trade a hundred miles away. These are two teams still with a lot to play for. Two teams whose futures are still uncertain. Two teams who need the points just as much as anyone else in the division.
Bayern Munich have held top spot since before Christmas now. It used to be ours. We were top of the tree up until the first week in October when we lost our first game of the season at the hands of Red Bull Leipzig at Signal Iduna Park. The title was gone from that point. It was around about the same time that Bayern brought in Jupp Heynckes for Carlo Ancelotti and their season took a turn for the better. They catapulted themselves into top spot and have not relinquished it since. They have become a force this season and each week has seen them extend the gap ever more, to the point we are at today which sees our opponents seventeen points clear of Schalke in second.
It has been an astonishing turnaround for Bayern, who only need six points from a possible twenty one to become Ligameister for the twenty eighth time. Heynckes has done a superb job and deserves all the credit coming his way. He is aware that his short reign is coming to the end though and that Bayern have some crucial games coming up. He described the coming two months as his team entering a “decisive phase” in their season. He is wary of regaining the rhythm they set before the international break but that shouldn’t be a problem, as Bayern will be playing twice a week most weeks between now and the end of the season.
This “decisive phase” is something his team will have to embark on without some key players. Manuel Neuer has missed most of the season with a knee injury but has recently returned to training. However, it is only light training Sven Ulreich is likely to play most of the next few games in goal for Bayern. Arturo Vidal has returned from international duty with Chile with a bruised thigh and won’t play tomorrow, neither will Juan Bernat and Kingsley Coman. The two left sided players are also injured.
Peter Stoeger may take heart from his rivals injury woes. That being said, he would be a fool to. The strength in depth that Bayern have has been one of their key contributing factors to their success this season – the ability to call upon quality when quality is unavailable. Stoeger know his side have to force the issue, something they didn’t do the last time these two teams met in December in the DFB Pokal round of 16. Dortmund were too respectful of Bayern and the boss admitted that “the way we defended didn’t work at all” but that he was hoping for his side to “play an active part in the game, have possession and break up their [the opposition’s] rhythm”.
It is sure to be a stern test defensively for BVB and on we will have to face without three defenders. Erik Durm remains sidelined and is likely to miss the rest of the season. Dan-Axel Zagadou is still unavailable following his suspension and Omer Toprak picked up an injury last time out against Hannover. He, along with Marco Reus who was also injured in the game, are yet to train with the team and Stoeger said in his press conference that he was “inclined to doubt that both will be ready for Saturday”. They join Andriy Yarmolenko, Shinji Kagawa and Sebastien Rode on the missing list, but Raphael Guerreiro is fit again as was evident in his involvement for Portugal over the international break. Jadon Sancho is likely to return to the BVB bench though after a slight ankle injury. Sergio Gomez could be a surprise inclusion to the dugout too, having impressed while playing for Spain under-19’s and in the Dortmund under-23 squad.
This is one of those games where stats go out of the window. I could tell you that no team has more wins over Bayern in the Bundesliga that Borussia Dortmund to fill you with confidence. I could tell you that Bayern have twenty one wins from twenty seven league games this season to build some tension. I could tell you that we are unbeaten in our last twelve league games, and unbeaten in our last six away, to swing your feeling towards this game back the other way. But as I said, stats mean nothing in a game lake this – right?