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Dortmund find back to top form ahead of Champions League match

After Uli Hoeness poked the wasp nest last week, declaring that Dortmund were a "regional" club, the champions responded in style on Saturday. But Bayern are looking quietly awesome ahead of the Champions League.

Borussia Dortmund's coach Juergen Klopp reacts after the German first division Bundesliga soccer match against Bayer Leverkusen in Dortmund September 15, 2012. Dortmund won the match 3-0. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender (GERMANY - Tags: SPORT SOCCER) DFL RULES TO LIMIT THE ONLINE USAGE DURING MATCH TIME TO 15 PICTURES PER GAME. IMAGE SEQUENCES TO SIMULATE VIDEO IS NOT ALLOWED AT ANY TIME. FOR FURTHER QUERIES PLEASE CONTACT DFL DIRECTLY AT + 49 69 650050

Fußball Dortmunds Trainer Jürgen Klopp

If you're going to go round riling your biggest domestic rivals, it might be best not to do it on the eve of their Champions League campaign. But then Uli Hoeness, all-powerful president of Bayern Munich, never was one to weigh his words.

"Dortmund," he declared last week at a digital trade fair in Cologne, "is a relatively regional thing. Bayern is a global player." The choice of "regional," as opposed to "national," was, it has to be said, quite an insult, implying as it did that Dortmund's fame barely extended beyond the Rhineland.

President Uli Hoeness address a news conference in Munich July 3, 2012. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

Hoeness said some things he regretted last week

The remarks seemed ill-advised, given that a) Dortmund did win the Champions League in its current form in 1997, before Bayern, and b) such quotes inevitably prompt the slighted team to raise their game.

Dortmund back in the groove

After a relatively shaky start to the season - a slightly fortunate win over Bremen was followed by a draw against Nuremberg - Dortmund located their mojo in classic style against a helpless Leverkusen on Saturday.

It took a while, but, once Mats Hummels had put the champions in the lead from a corner, the Polish trio of Robert Lewandowski, Lukasz Piszczek, and Jakub Blaszczykowski combined beautifully for the second goal. The icing was applied in the second half, with the game already won, when Lewandowski - Dortmund's top scorer last season, finally opened this season's account with a typical glancing header.

It was an ideal confidence booster ahead of Dortmund's "Group of Death" in the Champions League, which gets under way on Tuesday. That's when Dutch champions Ajax Amsterdam will come to town. After that, the English and Spanish champions, Manchester City and Real Madrid, await.

Bayern's Bastian Schweinsteiger, right, celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the German first division Bundesliga soccer match between FC Bayern Munich and 1. FSV Mainz 05, in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012. (Foto:Matthias Schrader/AP/dapd)

Bayern are looking formidable, even without the big guns

A point to prove

That's when Dortmund's real trials will begin. The truth is that Hoeness had a point. In last season's Champions League, Dortmund did indeed look like a "regional" side out of their depth. They tumbled out at the earliest opportunity, having failed to get out of a much easier group than they have now. Few Dortmund fans will care to remember how they were humiliated 3-0 by Marseille, and eked out just one win in six, a 1-0 at home to Olympiacos Piraeus.

Many pundits put the disaster down to tactical naivete - the lack of an alternative plan to the quick-passing, hard-running movement that ran rings around most of the Bundesliga. Others said that Dortmund did not know how to play "economically." In other words, they were so energetic, they were unable to preserve their energy and play slow, dull possession football. These young bucks just loved playing football too much.

Dortmund's sporting director Michael Zorc acknowledged both of these criticisms in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung on Sunday.

Dortmund vs. Leverkusen Bundesliga match Foto: Marius Becker dpa/lnw

Dortmund finally got into the groove against Leverkusen on Saturday

"The question is indeed whether you can put pressure on a strong opponent with good pressing, just as you do in your national league," he said. "Barca manage to do it across competitions. We'll see whether we can do it against Madrid and Manchester … In some cases, it might be necessary to wind down the clock with a 1-0 lead, like we did last season against Piraeus. We have to learn that. Those games are part of it, but they're not our style."

Thin squad?

The other question raised by last season's misadventures was whether Dortmund has a squad big enough to cope with three campaigns. The loss of Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United was evidently balanced by the superlative talents of Marco Reus, and he's apparently already clicked in the side - despite being left on the bench on Saturday. But that's about it. Bayern, meanwhile, have bolstered themselves significantly in defense, midfield and attack by signing Dante, Martinez and Mario Mandzukic. This is a team with intent.

Zorc's response to this point sounds a little less convincing. "Mario Götze didn't play for half a year, now he's fully back in form," he told the paper. "A year ago we got Sebastian Kehl, an important man who hardly had a chance to play in the season before that. On top of that, we're developing as a team. We're more mature than last year."

It's true that Dortmund have always thrived on their supreme cohesion, their instinctive understanding of one another. But whether that will be enough to make sure they're not just watching the Champions League on TV next year remains to be seen.

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