Bayern rampant, Dortmund desperate ahead of CL deciders | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 25.11.2013
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Bayern rampant, Dortmund desperate ahead of CL deciders

After being beaten 3-0 in "Der Klassiker," Dortmund now face a probable do-or-die match against Napoli on Tuesday. Bayern, on the other hand, go into their Wednesday match versus CSKA Moscow full of confidence.

A trip to Moscow in late November isn't everyone's idea of a perfect vacation, but the mood on the Bayern Munich team plane to the Russian capital will be pretty darn good. A win in Moscow would clinch top spot in group D, and Bayern square up against CSKA on the back of a convincing win against their only real rivals in the Bundesliga – and last year's Champions league finalists.

Expect Bayern coach Pep Guardiola to rotate his line-up in Moscow 1) because he can afford to, and 2) because he rotates his line-up all the time anyway – sometimes within a single game. In Dortmund, for instance, Javi Martinez more or less played every position except center forward and goalkeeper.

Much has been made about Mario Götze changing the complexion of the game with his goal against his former club – it's a perfect storyline for headlines. But you could say with equal justification that the match turned on Guardiola's decision to replace Mario Mandzukic, a classic center forward, with the more agile dribbler.

That sort of flexibility is the hallmark of Bayern under the former Barcelona coach. Borussia Dortmund succeeded in stymieing the Bavarians for more than an hour. But they also ran themselves ragged in the process, leaving them vulnerable to Götze's pace and inspiration.

Last season's treble winning Bayern team had a lethally efficient squad with a clear hierarchy and preferred formation and playing style. This season's Bayern is tearing up the rule book and redefining what dominant football can look like.

A spirit of experimentation

Guardiola talks to Lahm

Guardiola's a man with more than one plan

Bayern are now virtually certain to win the Bundesliga and are well positioned in the German Cup and the Champions League as well. If the Bavarians continue their winning ways in all three competitions, Guardiola will have pulled off the neat trick of fixing something that wasn't broken.

There was no way the Spaniard could optimize the way Bayern played last season under ex-coach Jupp Heynckes, when the Bavarian giants won the first-ever German treble. Without a change of philosophy, Guardiola's only option would have been to try to preserve the status quo and prevent his stars from resting on their laurels.

By demanding maximum flexibility, the Spaniard has ripped his charges out of their comfort zones. He's also revitalized a player like Rafinha, whose renaissance means that Philipp Lahm can now be deployed in midfield as well as in the back four. Lahm, too, was redeployed twice during the Dortmund match.

Of course, it helps that Bayern have one of the deepest squads ever assembled. Most coaches can only dream of being able to bring in players of caliber of Götze, Thiago and Daniel van Buyten off the bench. With that sort of depth, Bayern can afford to lose even European Player of the Year Franck Ribery to injury without a serious drop in quality.

As a result, the Bavarians looked poised to have another monster season – and CSKA look likely to become their next victims.

Dortmund's backs to the wall

Eric Durm of Dortmund looks dejected

Dortmund were down in the dumps on Saturday

How different the situation is for Dortmund. Jürgen Klopp's men can bury any dreams they had of a Bundesliga title. The squad is wracked with injuries and they have only three days to put the Bayern defeat behind them and try to survive in the Champions League.

Dortmund are currently third in Group F of club football's premier competition, three points behind Arsenal and Napoli, with the Italian side coming to the Ruhr Valley on Tuesday. Anything less than a win would almost certainly relegate BVB to the Europa League.

To their enormous credit, the boys in yellow and black put up a courageous fight against Bayern, keeping the champs at bay for sixty minutes despite lacking their entire first choice back four. If Robert Lewandowski and Marco Reus had made more of their chances, Dortmund might have been able to take something from that match.

Nonetheless, you have to question whether last year's Champions League finalists will be able to recover physically and mentally after expending so much energy in a losing cause. And they'll face a very different strategic challenge against Napoli than the one they confronted versus Bayern.

Back to the pressing game

Napoli's forward Gonzalo Higuain celebrates

Napoli won their first match against Dortmund

Up against the Bavarian powerhouse with a makeshift defense, including Manuel Friedrich, who was only signed a few days before, Klopp threw his normal game plan out the window. Instead of having his charges press in the opponents' half, Dortmund defended deep, letting Bayern have as much as three-quarters of possession and trying to catch them on the counter-attack.

Against Bayern, that strategy looked as though it just might work, but it's highly unlikely to function that way versus Napoli. With Friedrich ineligible for the Champions League, Klopp has to re-jig his defense yet again. Moreover, a draw would suit Napoli just fine. Dortmund are going to have to take the game to their opponents, and that means their back four are going to be far more exposed.

To relieve the pressure, Dortmund would love to score early. Unfortunately for them, Napoli know this as well, and if there's one thing Italian teams historically do well, it's defend.

The cause is by no means lost for Germany's second-best team. And with Reus, Lewandowski, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Nuri Sahin at his disposal, Klopp will go into the Tuesday's match with his patented and often justified manic positivism.

But it wouldn't be a complete shock if Dortmund again came up a little bit short.

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