Bayern Munich, Dortmund collide with similar Bundesliga aspirations
Bayern Munich threatens to extend its monopoly on the Bundesliga when they welcome Borussia Dortmund to the Allianz Arena on Sunday (live, FS2, FOX Sports Go, 11:30 a.m. ET).
The meeting of Germany’s leading two clubs — a fixture painfully billed as "Der Klassiker" or the "Deutsche Classico" — is one of the most anticipated league encounters in several seasons. But with Dortmund rocked by draws against Hoffenheim and Darmstadt, the current champions could extend their lead to seven points ahead of the international shutdown.
Defeat for Dortmund would all-but render the championship dream over, but Sunday’s trip to Munich at the height of Oktoberfest is perhaps worth more than just points: It’s a valued opportunity without UEFA Champions League football to assess where exactly the club sits after 18 months of struggle.
Qualifying once again for the Champions League is the goal for Tuchel in his first season, not necessarily winning the championship. Similarly, this is Bayern’s biggest test of the season and will show what kind of steel Josep Guardiola’s men have as they look to secure a fourth consecutive league championship and improve on recent semifinal finishes in the Champions League.
Tuchel and Guardiola have similar coaching principles based around a model known as "juego de posicion" which essentially creates guidelines for players around a flexible, attacking style. Both coaches want their teams to create numerical advantages between each line of pressure and attack half-spaces and dangerous channels of play in-and-around the penalty box.
While Guardiola has used this style for years, Tuchel has used it to bring a more flexible style to Dortmund following the departure of Jürgen Klopp. The fast-paced movements are still there, but there is variation and coordinated moves, put together on the training pitch.
For example, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Shinji Kagawa have looked reinvigorated under Tuchel. The pair are exactly the kind of half-space monsters that can impact a game in this approach. On his sabbatical after leaving Mainz, Tuchel and Guardiola apparently exchanged ideas on how to play the game. While Guardiola’s future is still unclear, the encounters between the two will provide fascinating narrative around these two clubs in years to come.
After his exploits in recent weeks, Robert Lewandowski has Dortmund in his sights. The Polish international was on Dortmund’s books for four seasons before leaving the club just weeks after helping the yellow-and-blacks reach the Champions League final. Since his sensational display against Wolfsburg, Lewandowski has scored 10 goals in three games for Bayern. He is on course to break the club’s best scoring record in one season (40), held by legend and European Cup winner Gerd Müller — Lewandowski already has 10 goals in six Bundesliga appearances.
Replacing the Pole at Signal Iduna Park, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s contributions have been consistently stacked up against Lewandowski. The Gabon striker has hit double figures as part of under-performing Dortmund teams, but now has found his richest vein of form since moving to Germany. Aubameyang’s scoring rate is visibly excellent — 28 goals in his last 32 games for Dortmund — but his all-round game has markedly improved under Tuchel. His runs are more varied, he combines well with other players around him and he’s stronger in aerial challenges.
Elsewhere, defensive performances will be pivotal to the outcome. Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels form a dominant partnership in the colors of the German national team, but they will be on opposite sides on Sunday. Given the dangers in attack on show, both centerbacks will need to be sharp to clear any danger in behind.
Boateng and Hummels are arguably the two best central defenders in Europe with the ball at their feet. They can dictate the tempo from the back, open up compact defenses at the other end by charging out from stationary defensive position. The chances are Tuchel and Guardiola will look to limit how much time in possession their counterpart has, which makes the respective battle even more interesting.
While Bayern will need Douglas Costa to have his assist boots on, Dortmund will need midfield pair Julian Weigl and Ilkay Gundogan to stamp their own dominant styles on the game. The pressing resistance of all midfielders on the park will be tested to the limits by two energetic, high-pressing outfits.
Guardiola has narrowly had the upper-hand over Dortmund in recent seasons with three league wins, but Bayern did lose the last clash on penalty kicks in the German Cup last season. A new opponent in the dugout in the shape of Tuchel could be his toughest test in German football.
For whichever team comes out on top in the meeting of Germany’s biggest clubs, Sunday’s derby could be a season-defining encounter in the context of the title race.