Broken Dortmund determined as ever to halt Bayern machine
Fighters take your places: round two is about to commence. For the second time this season Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola lock horns as Germany’s top two sides go head to head - although this time the stakes are much, much higher.
While July's DFL-Supercup (won 4-2 by Dortmund) was important in striking the first psychological blow of the season, this game could end up shaping the entire title race. If Bayern win they go seven points clear and the odds of them recording back-to-back titles will shorten considerably. If, however, Dortmund can take all three points then the gap will be down to one and we're back with an open field.
So this probably wasn't the best time for Klopp's side to suffer the mother of all defensive crises. Before the international break centre-back Neven Subotic was ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, but now partner Mats Hummels is sidelined until January with ankle ligament damage and left-back Marcel Schmelzer is out for three weeks with a calf problem.
Combine this with first-choice right-back Lukasz Piszczek playing only half an hour of football (in a hastily arranged friendly on Tuesday) since the Champions League final last season and Dortmund’s defensive woes become even more alarming.
It looks like the Poland international could be rushed into first-team action for Saturday’s clash. That likelihood probably increased when news broke that Bayern danger man Franck Ribéry would also miss the game after cracking a rib in France's play-off win over Ukraine. Still, predicting the Dortmund backline isn't easy. Youngster Erik Durm suffered an injury on duty with Germany's U21s and, aside from summer signing Sokratis Papastathopoulos and utility man Kevin Großkreutz, there are no certainties.
Depending on Piszczek’s fitness his compatriot Jakub Blaszczykowski could be asked to fill in at right-back, while teenagers Koray Günter and Marian Sarr could both be in line for a start.
So it's safe to this isn't good news for Dortmund - how unlucky can you get ahead of arguably your biggest game of the season? Klopp must ensure his team is extremely organised and alert to Bayern’s attacking prowess. His best bet may turn out to be sending his team out with a view to scoring more than Bayern, although that may well backfire disastrously.
For all Klopp's charm, charisma and obvious talent as a manager, he and his team (like any other) are powerless to stave off an injury crisis. A team like Bayern though, of course, have far greater depth than their rivals. At centre-back alone Bayern could play Jerome Boateng, Dante, Daniel van Buyten, Jan Kirchhoff, Holger Badstuber and Javi Martinez. That’s without even mentioning Philipp Lahm who, let’s be honest, could easily do a job there.
Bayern are a machine built for the accumulation of trophies. Another treble is very much on the cards, and while Dortmund’s attempts to tame the beast are extremely noble, it feels like they may be futile. The disparity between the two sides will only increase if Robert Lewandowski chooses to join Bayern at the end of the season.
Losing both Lewandowski and wonder boy Mario Götze in the space of a year would be hard; losing them to your title rivals is just cruel. Yet there's a sense that Klopp is prepared and knows what he will do if Lewandowski should leave, just like he did with Götze. Armenian midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been an inspired signing for a far lower fee than the one they received for his playmaking predecessor.
Klopp has proved himself to be extremely resourceful, but the affable former Mainz chief needs to be at his inventive best if he is to lead Dortmund to victory on Saturday. Stopping Bayern might be about as easy as taking on Carol Vorderman at Countdown, but there's no one better placed in Germany to do it than these affable adventurers from the north.
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