With a five-point lead over Dortmund at the top and a squad that is more formidable than your average mother-in-law, Bayern Munich are already many people’s champions elect. Last February, Dortmund took a big step towards the title with a mightily impressive 3-1 victory in Munich, they now have to – for everyone else’s sake as much as their own – repeat that performance to keep Bayern within reach. It’s ein Hammerspiel as the Germans brand their biggest matches – we look at the nuts and bolts of the respective well-oiled 4-2-3-1 machines to see if Dortmund have the tools to dismantle Bayern.
GOALKEEPERS Great goalkeepers win games for their teams, and though Manuel Neuer has not had to do that for much of the season, he certainly did so with his wonderful late save against Augsburg. Roman Weidenfeller can be brilliant at times, but is not in the same class as Neuer, even if it is a little surprising he has never been capped by Germany. He has played four times in Munich and lost them all, missing out last season through injury to allow Mitchell Langerak to make a stunning, winning debut.
BACK FOURS Bayern are this season’s Dortmund having conceded just four times. It’s a remarkable record, and one that can be attributed to added-value in Rafinha and Jerome Boateng, whose mere presence seems to have galvanised Holger Badstuber’s enormous potential, while Daniel Van Buyten has also stepped up his game with increased competition. Philipp Lahm’s move to the left is also key with the captain linking up with Franck Ribéry better than he ever did with Arjen Robben or even Thomas Müller. Dortmund have conceded just nine times – the joint-second-best tally in the league – but have looked far less secure at the back this season, and with Felipe Santana replacing Neven Subotic in Munich, are likely to be more porous still.
HOLDING MIDFIELDERS Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes said earlier this season that Bastian Schweinsteiger, on his day, is the equal of Xavi or Andres Iniesta. Exaggerated perhaps, but there is no doubt Bayern missed him badly against Augsburg. Heynckes said he would replace ‘Schweini’ “one-for-one” and thought David Alaba was the solution, but the Austrian looked lost, giving the ball away frequently – mistakes he cannot afford against a brilliant counter-attacking team like Dortmund. Who plays alongside Sven Bender for the visitors will be important. In Moritz Leitner, Dortmund seem to have found a more natural successor to Nuri Sahin than Ilkay Gündogan, but Jürgen Klopp may be tempted to go for the experience of Sebastian Kehl to give his back four more protection.
ATTACKING TRIOS The reason Klopp can be more conservative is that his attacking players are in such good form – only Bayern have scored more goals. Some of their play against Wolfsburg was breathtaking, and it was particularly pleasing to see Shinji Kagawa in spell-binding form, confirming his maiden season success was no fluke. Expect to see the workmanlike Kevin Grosskreutz on the left rather than Ivan Perisic to add industry to Mario Götze and Kagawa’s inspiration and help keep Bayern’s wide man on the right in check, particularly given Marcel Schmelzer’s lack of form. While the hosts’ back four and Luiz Gustavo will need to be on their toes, Dortmund will be fully aware of the damage Bayern’s forward-thinking three can do. Müller played wonderfully for Germany against the Netherlands, while Toni Kroos and Ribéry look to be re-discovering their glorious form of yore, though surely Bayern would be more solid should Kroos drop back alongside Gustavo and the fit-again Arjen Robben restored to the starting XI.
LONE STRIKERS Mario Gomez’s stats don’t so much speak for themselves, but shout from the rooftops. Twenty goals in 18 competitive fixtures for Bayern this season is an incredible return, but the oft-maligned striker has added a work ethic to his game that has not only made Miroslav Klose and Ivica Olic redundant, but also morphed him into Bayern’s first line of defence. Heynckes has repeatedly praised Gomez’s work-rate, which when added to his goals leaves little margin for criticism, while Jogi Löw allowed him to rest rather than train with the German national team before their game with Ukraine last week, a further mark of recognition for the ex-Stuttgart man’s lung-bursting efforts without the ball. Robert Lewandowski has not been quite as prolific, but has deservedly kept Lucas Barrios out of the Dortmund side. The Pole has built on the promise shown at Lech Poznan, but still has a little way to go before he can match Gomez for both goals and work-rate.
Despite being the league’s form team – with 16 points from their last 18 – the sum of Dortmund’s parts still do not add up to Bayern’s. The champions have progressed since last season, notably in terms of the strength in depth in their squad, but Bayern have improved much more. As Dortmund’s own left-back Marcel Schmelzer recently said: “Bayern know that they’re the best team, and so do we.”
Eurosport 2 Bundesliga commentator
Join us to look ahead to all the weekend’s action from 20:00CET on Friday before Kaiserslautern v Leverkusen (20:30CET) gets Week 13 underway. Third against fourth – Bremen against Mönchengladbach – kicks off Saturday’s games at 15:30CET, and after our Half Time round-up of all the day’s action from 17:30CET, Angus Torode and Tony Jeffers will be in the commentary box for Bayern v Dortmund (18:30CET). Stuttgart v Augsburg (15:30CET) and Hamburg v Hoffenheim (17:30CET) are Sunday’s games before we round up all the Week 13 games in our highlights programme at 19:30CET.