Far from meaningless when Bayern Munich-Borussia Dortmund lock horns
For the second year in a row, Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund meet in early April, and for the second year in a row, the spring Klassiker has zero bearing on the title race. Bayern, again, were simply too good this season to give even their closest competitors a sniff of a chance.
Still, it’s always something special when these two meet, and Saturday’s match is far from meaningless for either side.
It’s clearly a bigger fixture for Dortmund, who are coming off a heart-breaking aggregate loss to Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League, despite a valiant performance in the return leg. Jurgen Klopp’s men badly outplayed Real in the 2-0 win, proving they are still capable of beating anyone in the world on their day, even with a roster depleted by injury.
This is a proud squad, and Dortmund will take plenty of confidence to Munich. A result here could all but guarantee them direct entry into next season’s Champions League tournament, and build on the momentum they’ve gathered over the past seven days (starting with a 2-1 win over Wolfsburg). More importantly, BVB are still in a dogfight with Schalke for second place; a season finish behind both Bayern and their archrivals is the vilest of thoughts for members of the Yellow Wall.
Bayern, meanwhile, have crossed the Bundesliga off their to-do list altogether, which is why this becomes a tricky game for Bayern coach Josep Guardiola.
On the one hand, Guardiola will be keen to continue rotating his squad, so as to avoid any major, unnecessary injuries such as the one Thiago — his favorite — suffered against Hoffenheim. On the other, a home loss to your most hated foe is never a good look.
"I know it’s an important game for the people," Guardiola told reporters Thursday, "but I have to repeat: the Bundesliga is over. The next important game for us is (the German Cup semifinal against) Kaiserslautern (on Wednesday)."
Though the game means nothing in the big picture, Bayern would undoubtedly benefit from fielding at least a handful of their stars. A strong, motivated opponent like Dortmund is just the type of test Guardiola’s first teamers could use to stay sharp for the big challenges to come. We’ve seen big clubs lose their rhythm before as a consequence of "over-resting" key players.
Plus, if Guardiola throws out a B-team similar to the one that lost in Augsburg a week ago — one that included three first-time starters, which caught him flack from several Bundesliga coaches who accused him of distorting the competition — there’s a chance Dortmund could embarrass Bayern on their home field. One thing is for sure: Klopp’s players will bring the heat and won’t allow Bayern to enter with a lackadaisical approach.
We shouldn’t even be having this debate, of course. Before the season’s first duel in November, few would have predicted that by this time, Die Meisterschale would already be safely "in Bayern’s museum," as Guardiola so aptly put it last week.
Bayern came into Signal Iduna Park with just a four-point lead over Dortmund (and Leverkusen), having dropped points in two of their previous four away games. It was Guardiola’s biggest test to date as Bayern manager, and his progress was questioned, however slightly, for the first time. Bayern were not as clinical, did not possess that same killer instinct as Heynckes team a year ago, it was said.
Some quarters will insist that’s still not the case, but ever since Bayern ran out 3-0 winners that evening — of all people, it was comeback kid Mario Goetze who supplied the breakthrough midway through the second half — they’ve run off a streak every bit as dominant as last year’s side.
While Bayern and Dortmund won’t play for a trophy this weekend, they could, just like last season, still do so in a month’s time. In 2013, they collided in the Champions League final — this May, it could be the German Cup final. With that in mind, both squads will look to deal the other a loss to think about this weekend.