Der Klassiker: Do Dortmund finally have what it takes to beat Bayern?
Borussia Dortmund face Bayern Munich on Tuesday with the world watching to see if Lucien Favre's men can deny Bayern a record 30th league title.
Tuesday’s Der Klassiker will see Borussia Dortmund host Bayern Munich in what has become the biggest fixture in German football over the last decade. But while the rivalry between the two has grown, so too has a feeling of imbalance as Bayern have scooped up the last seven Bundesliga titles.
It is the longest championship-winning streak in Bundesliga history and in recent years the second Der Klassiker of the season has been the moment when Bayern have really shown their dominance. In April 2017, Bayern’s 4-1 win over Dortmund effectively sealed the title, with former BVB striker Robert Lewandowski scoring two against his old club. The Pole scored a hat-trick in that fixture in March 2018 as Bayern ran riot, scoring five first half goals on the way to an emphatic 6-0 victory.
In April last year, Dortmund were top of the table with just seven games remaining when they made the trip to the Allianz Arena, having been nine points clear in December. But again they were embarrassed by their more illustrious rivals and a 5-0 defeat saw Bayern leapfrog them into pole position. The Bavarians would remain there to win their seventh consecutive title.
"You clearly have to say that this was a lesson for us”, said Dortmund coach Lucien Favre in the post-match press conference last season. "Bayern kept dominating the game with more speed and better movements. They played on a higher level, it was a lesson."
Dortmund "do not think back", says Favre ahead of Bayern clash
Surpassing Bayern has become the number-one aim for Borussia Dortmund but in their meeting earlier this season, it seemed like business as usual for the reigning champions. The home side ran out 4-0 winners and left Dortmund down in fifth, with Favre under real pressure to make some changes or face the sack.
Since then, however, Dortmund have gone from strength to strength. Favre deserted his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation shortly after the Bayern defeat and implemented a 3-4-3 system that gave greater defensive cover. It also allowed the energetic Achraf Hakimi and Raphael Guerreiro greater license to charge forward in their wing-back roles and saw the experienced Lukasz Piszczek return to the starting XI. Piszczek joined Mats Hummels in a back three, nine years after they had won their first Bundesliga title together under Jürgen Klopp.
In January, Favre realised that his side needed more strength down the middle of the pitch and acquired the services of Emre Can and Erling Braut Haaland for a moderate outlay. Can arrived on loan from Juventus and immediately added a physical presence to the Dortmund midfield, shielding the defence and using his long-passing ability to launch counter-attacks.
Halaand, a 20-million-euro signing from Red Bull Salzburg, was expected to take some time to settle in the Bundesliga but has been a revelation up front. The 19-year-old Norwegian has scored 13 goals in 13 games for the club and has given Dortmund the cutting edge needed to wrestle the title from Bayern’s grip.
Behind Haaland, the contributions of Jadon Sancho, Thorgan Hazard, Julian Brandt, and Giovanni Reyna have helped to make Dortmund one of the most attractive attacking forces anywhere in the world. All are looking to win the first league championship of their careers but can rely on the calming authority of Hummels and Piszczek, who know what it takes to lift the trophy. Dortmund will hope that mixture of youth and experience can make this different to previous games between the two sides.
“We do not think back to that first game. We have forgotten it,” Favre said in the build-up to Tuesday’s match. “We now play a system that better fits our squad better. We have also brought in Emre Can and Erling Haaland as reinforcements in the winter who have further increased our quality.”
On paper, this Dortmund side looks the most complete of any of the post-Klopp iterations, but they will need to prove it on Tuesday if they are to secure their place in club and German football history.