Borussia Dortmund felt they had their best chance in years of toppling Bayern Munich as German soccer’s predominant superpower. The Black and Yellows had six straight league wins behind them as they welcomed their title rivals to the Westfalenstadion in May. A victory would have put them within one point of the Bavarians at the top of the table, setting up a sprint to the finish.
There was indeed a sprint to the finish, but only by one team. Joshua Kimmich’s first half goal gave Bayern Munich a 1-0 win in the last Klassiker, with Hansi Flick’s side winning all six of their final Bundesliga fixtures to claim am eighth straight championship with a 13-point cushion over second-place Dortmund.
Now, Der Klassiker is once again upon us. Just like in May, Dortmund will host Bayern Munich at the Westfalenstadion. Just like in May, the stadium will be unusually silent, with fans still locked out due to Covid-19 fears. But unlike in May, there isn’t much hope of a Black and Yellows win. Most agree a Bayern Munich victory is a foregone conclusion.
This is despite the two teams being tied on the same points at the top of the Bundesliga table. Dortmund are on a four-game winning streak in the league and have won their last two Champions League fixtures against Zenit St Petersburg and Club Brugge. They are in good form, and yet few expect Saturday’s fixture to have much bearing on where the title ends up this season.
Bayern Munich have won every Bundesliga title since 2013, but their stranglehold on German soccer has never been as tight as it is now. Flick led the Allianz Arena outfit to a triumphant Treble last season, overcoming a dismal start to the campaign which saw Niko Kovac lose his job before Christmas.
The way Bayern Munich strolled to Champions League glory last season was an illustration of their strength right now. The Bavarians were rarely troubled as they became European champions once again, putting seven goals past Chelsea over two legs, eight goals past Barcelona and three past Lyon on their way to the final. Paris Saint-Germain kept the scoreline tighter in the final, but at no point did it feel as if Bayern Munich were at any real risk of losing. They won the Champions League at something close to a canter.
They are the complete team. Flick boasts two of the best full backs in the game, with former Vancouver Whitecaps teenager Alphonso Davies a revelation last season. Kimmich is one of Europe’s most accomplished right backs, as he displayed in the Champions League final, unless he’s playing in midfield, where he’s one of Europe’s most accomplished midfielders.
Then there’s the attack, led by a striker who has already scored 12 goals in 10 appearances this season and finished last season with 55 goals in 47 appearances in all competitions. This is reflective of how Robert Lewandowski, even by his standards of the last decade, is currently in the form of his life. There is no player more devastating in the sport right now than the Pole.
It’s not just Lewandowski, though. It’s Thomas Muller, who broke the Bundesliga record for assists last season. It’s Serge Gnabry, who scored nine times in Champions League starts last season. It’s Kingsley Coman, who has two goals in three Champions League games this season. And it’s Leroy Sane, who arrived from Manchester City over the summer to strengthen a frontline already considered Europe’s most potent.
The loss of Thiago Alcantara to Liverpool had the potential to knock Bayern Munich from their stride, but Leon Goretzka has forged an understanding with Kimmich which allows the Bavarians to be even more dynamic. The transformation of Goretzka in 2020, in terms of his physique and his game on the pitch, has been remarkable.
Of course, Dortmund have quality of their own. Erling Haaland is soccer’s next great centre forward. Despite an underwhelming start to the season, Jadon Sancho is one of Europe’s best wide man. Factor in Emre Can, Julian Brandt, Gio Reyna, Jude Bellingham, Axel Witsel and a few others and Lucien Favre’s team cannot be discounted.
That Favre is Dortmund coach should be discussed. While the 63-year-old is revered for his free-flowing, attractive soccer, there are questions over his ability to win. To deliver actual results. Contrast this to Flick who has harnessed a group of proven winners, instilling a culture in the Allianz Arena dressing room which sees players demand the best from one another.
Saturday’s Klassiker might well be a spectacle. Dortmund could play their part and make for an entertaining encounter, but the past seven years, and especially the last 12 months, shows that when it matters most, Bayern Munich get the job done. Few will expect a different result this weekend.