Having shared the last nine Bundesliga titles between them, points and prestige are on the line when Dortmund host Bayern on Saturday. In the 120th edition of Der Klassiker, new subplots hint at the tables turning.
Seen as the highlights of every Bundesliga season, clashes between Bayern and Dortmund haven’t always met expectations. This time round though, the fixture has the potential to live up to the hype.
1. Title credentials to be put to the test
You have to go back to 2012 for the last time this fixture was actually a title-deciding encounter. Given the noticeable gulf in class between Bayern and Dortmund in recent seasons, Der Klassiker became oversold.
This year the tables appear to have turned. Bayern have lifted the title in each of the last six seasons, but it’s Dortmund who currently boast a four-point cushion over their rivals at the Bundesliga summit.
Title-winning credentials won’t be fully determined on Saturday, but it will be a valuable gauge for fans and neutrals alike to determine how Germany’s top two sides stack up this season.
2. Out with the old, in with the new?
Since Robert Lewandowski’s move to Munich, Bayern’s frontline has unquestionably been the most-feared in German football. This season, BVB are challenging for the throne, averaging three goals a game in Germany’s top flight and boasting 14 different goal scorers.
Marco Reus has led like a captain and been injury free, while the prolific Paco Alcacer is making Barcelona question their decision to let him leave on loan. Complemented by the youthful guile and ambition of Christian Pulisic, Jadon Sancho and Jacob Bruun Larsen, Dortmund have struck a real chord up front.
3. Clean sheets hard to come by for Neuer
Manuel Neuer’s standing as Bayern’s No1 hasn’t changed but, on current form, the 32-year-old no longer has a claim to the title of ‘best goalkeeper in the world’.
Named in the FIFPro World XI four years running, Neuer’s reputation has been built chiefly on his ability to produce match-winning saves despite long periods of inactivity.
Going 428 Bundesliga minutes without making a save may sound good, but not when you factor in the eight goals conceded in that time frame. Combine that with a save rate of less than 60 per cent in 2018 and the trip to free-scoring Dortmund becomes more ominous.
4. Dortmund’s response to first defeat
While Bayern have hit some major stumbling blocks both on and off the pitch, Lucien Favre’s new-look BVB side have been firing on all cylinders. Dortmund rode their luck at times during the club-record 15-game unbeaten start and finally suffered their first defeat against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.
That loss felt inevitable, especially given the injuries Favre has had to contend with in his backline. But the Swiss coach won’t want his side to make a habit of losing and they now need to prove that they can respond positively to the setback.
A clash with Bayern could turn out to be either the perfect opportunity to make a statement of intent or the worst fixture to face on the back of a confidence-denting first defeat.
5. Kovac’s use of Kimmich
A natural midfielder, Joshua Kimmich has developed into one of the best right-backs in the world. So after Kovac followed in Joachim Löw’s footsteps by fielding him in midfield on Matchday 10, the question now is which role Kimmich will fill at Signal Iduna Park.
Against Freiburg the 23-year-old used his 109 touches to dictate the build-up play from the midfield anchor role. Kovac moved him back again in the midweek win over Athens and, given BVB’s aforementioned attacking strengths, is likely to stick with that formula on Saturday.
A potential one-on-one battle with Sancho is a mouth-watering prospect whether you’re a fan of stellar defensive work or fleet-footed trickery.