How do Bayern Munich and Dortmund balance their lineups with the Champions League looming?
Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund face an interesting set of circumstances when they square off Saturday (on FS1, 11:30 a.m. ET). With critical Champions League quarterfinal matches coming up a few days after Der Klassiker, how much emphasis should be put on winning the domestic contest? Looking at the Bundesliga table, a victory in their derby match doesn’t really mean a whole lot.
Bayern have 65 points, 10 better than second-placed RB Leipzig. BVB are in fourth place with 50 points, 10 clear of any other Bundesliga rival chasing them for the fourth and final spot in next year’s Champions League. Clearly, Bayern Munich don’t have a whole lot to worry about in the standings. A jump into third place would automatically qualify Dortmund for the UCL group stage rather than the playoff, so that’s in play. But distilled down to its most pragmatic, the implications of the match purely from a standings aspect don’t amount to a whole lot.
However, that’s taking emotion out of the equation.
First off, pride is at play. This is a derby match, after all, and neither team would be as successful as they’ve been if they didn’t enter every match with the belief they could win. Dortmund already knocked off Bayern in the league earlier this year, too. The Bavarians would love nothing more than to return the favor in the return leg at the Allianz. Despite the magnitude of their rivalry, Bayern have maintained a fairly steady upper hand for years, save for the 2011/12 season. Even though the Champions League is a more lucrative (and more realistic in Dortmund’s case) target this year, fans won’t overlook inadequate lineups.
It puts the managers in a tight spot. How should they strike a balance in their lineups that doesn’t signal the waving of a white flag while still putting them in the best position to succeed midweek? Fortunately for both Carlo Ancelotti and Thomas Tuchel, they have deep squads at their disposals. Both are stretched a bit with injury, but therein is where the managers can rotate under the umbrella of fitness issues.
Bayern’s Ancelotti, in particular, should be cautious with his star players. Manuel Neuer undoubtedly would like to play, but if he’s not 100 percent healthy, why risk it? Robert Lewandowski said “Everything is fine, I will be ready” when an apparent injury fright cropped up. Again, if there’s a chance of exacerbating it, what is the payoff?
— Robert Lewandowski (@lewy_official) April 6, 2017
Tuchel’s rotation options center largely in his attack, where superstar Marco Reus has returned to training. The German manager has urged caution with the winger’s return. However, he also conceded that it being April already, he’s “not yet sure what to do.” The smart money says to rest the injury-prone 27-year-old against Bayern, and perhaps, if he’s somehow ready, he can make an appearance in the Champions League.
These aren’t easy decisions to make. On one hand, there’s a match against your rival to consider. On the other, there’s even bigger fish to fry just days afterward. This is what managers get paid to worry about, though, and both are experienced making hard calls. We’ll just have to wait to see if they were the right calls down the road.