Bundesliga

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All eyes on Goetze versus Dortmund

FOX Soccer Daily: Title hopes on the line in Dortmund-Bayern clash.
FOX Soccer Daily: Title hopes on the line in Dortmund-Bayern clash.
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Thomas Hautmann

Thomas Hautmann is an editor and contributing writer to FOXSoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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KEYS TO VICTORIES

Goetze's return is just one thing to watch out for in the "German Clasico."

All of Germany has been waiting for this match since May.

The Bundesliga’s biggest game of the season so far kicks off this weekend as Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund clash in a rematch of last season’s Champions League final (live, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET). The stakes are high: a win for Bayern will increase their lead over Dortmund to seven points, a gap that may prove insurmountable given the way the reigning treble winners have performed thus far.

The match itself, however, will be overshadowed by one polarizing figure. This weekend marks the first time Mario Goetze returns to his old stomping grounds, and it won’t be an easy trip. Once a fan favorite and the bearer of hope at Dortmund, Goetze is in for a very different reception from the famous Yellow Wall. His transfer to Bayern last summer was and remains a contentious and sensitive issue.

“It will be one of the most difficult moments of my career,” Goetze told Kicker this week. “But I have to deal with it, because in the end, it was my decision to leave.”

Many Dortmund fans -- and players -- still don’t understand Goetze’s decision to turn his back on the club he quickly had become the face of. Goetze came up through the Dortmund youth ranks and thrived in Jurgen Klopp’s system, turning himself into a German international and rising world star by the tender age of nineteen. The success was there, too; Dortmund beat Bayern to consecutive league titles in 2011 and 2012.

“There were little to no reasons to leave us,” Dortmund teammate Mats Hummels has been quoted as saying. “It was a shock to all of us,” added Goetze’s best friend, Marco Reus.

But Goetze did leave, and Dortmund’s fans still haven’t forgiven him. Eighty thousand of them will remind him on Saturday.

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“It’s a normal component of professional football. [Goetze] is not the first player to return to his former team. It’s always been a part of football,” said Matthias Sammer, Bayern’s sport director.

That may be right, but seldom has a transfer sparked such fallout between a player and a fan base (perhaps only Luis Figo’s move from Barcelona to archrivals Real Madrid in 2000 can compare), not least because of the timing of the announcement, which came just 36 hours ahead of Dortmund’s semifinal against Real Madrid. At the time, fans mostly heeded Jurgen Klopp’s plea to cheer on the team rather than boo Goetze. But the wave of contempt was already swelling.

Dortmund’s next home game, coincidentally against Bayern, was the start of an excruciating exit for Goetze. The Yellow Wall greeted him with a large banner that read: “The pursuit of money shows how much heart one truly has. [Expletive] Goetze.” Fans berated him on his Facebook page, posting videos of his jersey in flames. A Dortmund hip-hop group even released an expletive-laced, anti-Goetze rap that garnered over a quarter million views on YouTube. It may have been a blessing in disguise that Goetze couldn’t feature in any of Dortmund’s last games, including the final at Wembley, due to a muscle injury picked up against Madrid in the return leg.

As for this Saturday, Dortmund general manager Hans-Joachim Watzke said that “jeers would be unfair to Mario. He always behaved righteous towards us.” But Watzke knows he can’t save Goetze from the anticipated abuse. The only one who could is Josep Guardiola, by leaving him on the bench. That seems rather unlikely now, as Bayern must compensate for the absence of Franck Ribery (broken rib) and Bastian Schweinsteiger (ankle surgery).

Goetze will be forced to deal with the contentious atmosphere at Signal Iduna Park, but, truth be told, that pressure pales in comparison to what Goetze faces within the Bayern squad.

Five months after his move to Bayern, Goetze is yet to fully arrive. He’s seen the field just eleven times while struggling with injuries, and when he has played, he’s been average. Goetze seems more hesitant and less confident than a season ago. (Indeed, he's attracted more attention for his clothing gaffes than his performances.) And though Bayern fans must have been delighted to snatch away their rivals’ best player, they haven’t had much reason to warm up to him.

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“It’s always difficult for a new player when he starts the season injured and only plays sparingly,” says Bayern legend Oliver Kahn. “You need to give players like him time.”

But Goetze doen’t have much of that in Munich. The midfield competition is fiercer on this squad than any other in the world, and Guardiola must be considering shelving his darling “false nine” system given that Mario Mandzukic has become an indispensable goal machine.

For decades, many a German talent has left a comfortable situation to establish their imprint at Bayern, only to fail and get chased out of town -- one name that comes to mind is Lukas Poldolski. Goetze, who led all Bundesliga players with 42 scorer points in 51 competitive matches last season, won’t figure to suffer the same fate, and the Bayern brass firmly stands by their most expensive transfer. Still, the pressure is squarely on Goetze to prove himself.

The Yellow Wall will remind him.

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