Dortmund vs. Bayern: Previewing the Bundesliga’s biggest game

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Saturday will bring the biggest game in the Bundesliga to date and perhaps the biggest game across all of soccer as Borussia Dortmund host Bayern Munich. (Stream it LIVE in the U.S. on ESPN+, Saturday 12 p.m. ET.)

It’s second-place in the league hosting first and sets up to be a true Goliath vs. Goliath: Dortmund’s youth-driven movement, led by Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho and Giovanni Reyna, against the experienced, trophy-winning collective of Bayern, who can count on Robert Lewandowski, Joshua Kimmich and Manuel Neuer to lead them through virtually any challenge.

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“Der Klassiker,” as their rivalry is known, never fails to deliver drama and talking points even though Bayern have clinched the Bundesliga title a remarkable eight straight times, and a record 30 times overall. Dortmund have only won two of the past 10 league meetings against their Bavarian foes, last doing it in 2018, but anything’s possible this weekend.

To get you ready for the big game, ESPN’s Derek Rae, Tom Hamilton and Stephan Uersfeld run through the nature of the rivalry, the form guide and keys for both teams in terms of winning (or losing) at Signal Iduna Park on Saturday.

Jump to: Rae on rivalry’s growth | Infamous moments | Form guide | Key players | How game will be won/lost | Stats, trends | Predictions

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Derek Rae: “Der Klassiker” has grown with the times

Amid these unusual times, I don’t mind admitting that I’m longing to get back behind the microphone on ESPN+ this weekend, broadcasting the fixture most casual observers assume to be the biggest club match in German football.

“Der Klassiker” is the catchy nickname bestowed upon the Borussia Dortmund-Bayern Munich rivalry in recent years. Understandably, newer Bundesliga viewers probably see it as the ultimate showpiece game given that in the past decade, the coveted Meisterschale for the league champions has been the preserve of these two colossal clubs. No one else has had a look in.

The truth is when I first began travelling to watching Bundesliga matches in Germany back in the 1980s, it didn’t quite carry the resonance of other more established head-to-head confrontations. It certainly lacked the appeal of the often heated Hamburg-Bayern summit meeting between north and south, or of course the gritty “Revierderby” between Westfalen foes Dortmund and Schalke. Instead, Bayern vs. Dortmund was just another game — albeit high-profile — between two of the best supported sides in the country.

Things began to change in the 1990s as the Schwarzgelben challenged the Bavarian heavyweights, claiming the title in 1995 and 1996 and then winning the Champions League the following year. There was a palpable sense of an ongoing soap opera quality emerging, with individual incidents suddenly magnified on a grand scale.

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Dortmund’s descent into serious financial trouble in the 2000s didn’t mean that this connection was about to be severed. In fact, Bayern saw the bigger picture and played their part in rescuing their new, fierce rivals from financial oblivion with the provision of a €2 million interest-free loan at a time when BVB couldn’t afford to pay their players’ salaries. And, in a strange way, the brush with financial oblivion helped Dortmund retool organically and brought magic to the club in the shape of Jurgen Klopp.

The “Kloppo” years will be hard to top as a style of fast, wild football took hold in front of a public that really savoured it. With it, Dortmund secured a Bundesliga/DFB Pokal double at Bayern’s expense in 2011, following it up with another championship the next year.

By that point, the Bayern-Dortmund show had moved onto the grandest stage, as the two German giants clashed at Wembley in the 2013 Champions League final. Lucky enough to be on site that night, I vividly recall the feeling of excitement. Normally I’m not a fan of European finals featuring clubs from the same country but I was happy to make an exception for this one. The game was an edge-of-the-seat thriller settled by Arjen Robben‘s 89th minute winner, the second step for Bayern en route to a maiden Treble under Jupp Heynckes.

Since then, players from one side have switched to the other, and sometimes — like in the case of Mats Hummels — back again! Both sides have media crews following their every move in a way that simply doesn’t apply to other German clubs.

There have also been some thrashings in the past few years, mostly handed out by Bayern at their own Allianz Arena, some DFB-Pokal nail-biters and even games of high quality without a single goal. One of my favourites to commentate on was the 0-0 draw in March 2016 that saw Bayern successfully keep Dortmund at arm’s length at a time when Thomas Tuchel’s philosophy was all the rage at the Signal Iduna Park. In technical and tactical terms, it was a wonderful advert for the German game, and it ended with a hyper-active Pep Guardiola seemingly showering his prize pupil Kimmich with praise in the form of a rollicking!

When Dortmund and Bayern lock horns, you know you are watching history, something defining and if not decisive, then at least direction pointing. It might be a late-arriving rivalry but every Dortmund-Bayern tussle now carries a story. Saturday will be no different. — Derek Rae

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Taylor Twellman expects Erling Haaland to shine in this weekend’s Der Klassiker, live on ESPN+.

Der Klassiker’s infamous moments

The modern rivalry has been shaped by one player more than any other: Robben. On April 11, 2012, the winger stepped up to take a Bayern penalty at the Westfalenstadion. The clock was running down, there were four minutes left and the score was 1-0. Robben’s equaliser would have swung the momentum in the title race. The stadium was as loud as could be.

Dortmund’s fans whistled, booed and earnestly succeeded in throwing the Dutchman off his stride. To a Westfalenstadion roar, Dortmund keeper Roman Weidenfeller saved the penalty and defender Neven Subotic‘s pent-up tension erupted in Robben’s face.

A year later, at Wembley, Robben collected a long pass from Jerome Boateng. Again, the clock was ticking down and the teams were preparing for extra-time. But Robben had other plans. He scored and then marched up the stairs to collect the Champions League trophy. Within a year, Robben had turned around his, and Bayern’s, fortunes and reclaimed the narrative for the Bavarian giants.

The duels between the two sides in the 1990s and the early 2000s were also unrivalled. Bayern goalkeeper Oliver Kahn was in the spotlight. He led by example, going the extra mile when he launched a flying kick at Dortmund attacker Stephane Chapuisat, tested midfielder Andreas Moller’s ear and threatened to bite Heiko Herrlich. Years later, he punched Dortmund air when a Tomas Rosicky free kick hit the post and rolled all the way along the goalline into his waiting arms. Bayern went on to win the 2000-01 title, ending BVB’s hopes of lifting the Meisterschale right there.

In recent seasons, Bayern have enjoyed too much control over Dortmund in most games to produce special moments, but in 2020, anything can happen. — Stephan Uersfeld

Form Guide

There’s a familiar look to the Bundesliga in 2020. Bayern Munich sit in their usual spot at the top of the table, and with Borussia Dortmund hot on their heels, split only by goal difference. Bayern’s sole defeat of the season came away at Hoffenheim in matchday two, where they were dispatched 4-1 by Sebastian Hoeness’ side, who ruthlessly exposed their defensive frailties. But since then, they’ve swept up all before them both in the Bundesliga and Champions League.

Wins over Hertha Berlin, Arminia Bielefeld, Eintracht Frankfurt and Cologne followed, backed up with victories over Atletico Madrid (4-0) and Lokomotiv Moscow (2-1) in the Champions League. And then against FC Salzburg on Tuesday, they won in Austria 6-2 despite being locked at 2-2 with 11 minutes remaining.

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Lars Ricken breaks down Giovanni Reyna’s rise at Borussia Dortmund and his future trajectory.

Their summer transfer business varied between the well-planned and the fast-tracked, but Leroy Sane has adapted to life well at Bayern after joining from Man City, while their other new signings — Bouna Sarr, Marc Roca, Douglas Costa and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting — are settling in nicely, offering competent options for Hansi Flick when it comes to rest, rotation and load management. There’s also good news regarding other recent signings: having missed much of last season through injury, Lucas Hernandez is also adapting to life in Germany well and has made the starting left-back slot his own while Alphonso Davies has been injured.

Borussia Dortmund’s form is flying a little under the radar by comparison, but you sense that they’re yet to hit full throttle. Like Bayern, they have five wins from six in the Bundesliga, with their defeat coming at Augsburg in matchday 2. While their defence has been outstanding — they’ve conceded just twice in the league this year — they are a little less reliable up front, scoring 11 fewer goals than Bayern.

In the Champions League, their form has been mixed, with an opening round defeat to Lazio backed up with a 2-0 win over Zenit and then a 3-0 rout over Club Brugge on Wednesday. The talk over Lucien Favre’s long-term future is unlikely to go away anytime soon, but a win on Saturday will go some way to helping him silence his critics. — Tom Hamilton.

Key players

This is going to be a thrilling attacking battle. Dortmund have one of the best young group of attackers in world football with Haaland, Sancho and Reyna all chipping in with goals and assists, ably backed up by the mastery of Marco Reus and the tenacity of Emre Can and Axel Witsel in midfield.

Watch out for Reyna dropping deep and arriving late into the box, with Sancho and Raphael Guerreiro cutting in off their wings. Expect Haaland to remain persistent in testing Bayern’s offside trap, forever hanging on the last defender’s shoulder looking to get in behind the defence.

For Bayern, Robert Lewandowski is still scoring for fun and has a remarkable 10 goals in five Bundesliga games already. It is an incredible scoring rate, but he has quality lieutenants in Sane, Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry all teeing him up and also getting in on the goals, too.

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The best player in the world? Dortmund youth coordinator Lars Ricken weighs in on Erling Haaland’s potential.

Thomas Muller is so good that they named a position after him — the “Raumdeuter” (space maker) — and he continues to be one of the most eye-catching attackers in Europe. But also keep an eye on the omnipresent Kimmich, who scored an absolutely brilliant goal against Lokomotiv Moscow last week. Sometimes it’s as if there are three of him on the pitch given how much ground he covers, but Dortmund will no doubt have a plan to try and keep him from being too influential in midfield. — Tom Hamilton.

How the game will be won (or lost)

Dortmund have been at their most dangerous this season when transitioning into attack after winning the ball. A perfect Dortmund goal goes like this: they win the ball around the halfway line, Sancho picks it up, makes a run and looks up, seeing Haaland finding space behind the defenders; Haaland then finishes it off.

Bayern’s high line in recent seasons and their drop in concentration fits exactly into Dortmund’s plans. The main concern for Dortmund is the fitness of their star player in defence, Hummels. Having successfully changed to a 4-5-1 formation, but lacking depth at the centre-back position without Hummels and Emre Can — the latter has yet to return from COVID-19 — they might be forced to return to a 3-5-2 formation and be light on the wings. Summer signing Thomas Meunier at right-back has been Dortmund’s weak point this season; his crosses have gone astray far too often, while in defence it has also not worked out for him. Bayern will want to exploit that space and dominate midfield with Kimmich and Leon Goretzka.

Bayern also have defensive concerns. Niklas Sule tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week, and Alaba and Jerome Boateng will have their stamina and speed tested by Haaland. But in attack, Bayern will look to overload the flanks and create space in the box.

Muller will be at his best making a nuisance of himself in the box and will try to tease defenders out of position in order to give Lewandowski room to pounce. Also keep an eye on Hernandez at left-back: even without the infinitely talented Davies, he poses a real threat to the right side of Dortmund’s defence. — Stephan Uersfeld and Tom Hamilton.

Stats, data and trends

All information provided by ESPN Stats & Info

— Head to Head: Bayern Munich lead their all-time series in the Bundesliga, with 48 wins to Dortmund’s 25 (29 draws). Dortmund are hoping to avoid losing back-to-back home games against Bayern for the first time since 1969-70.

— Look out for Lew: Lewandowski (Bayern) has played for both sides of “Der Klassiker” and is the rivalry’s all-time leading scorer with 23 goals. However, he has failed to record a goal in the last two meetings. He’s in sublime form this season, too: his 14 goal contributions (all competitions) in 2020-21 are tied for the most by any player in Europe’s top five leagues with Tottenham’s Harry Kane.

— Longevity: Muller (Bayern) is the rivalry’s all-time leading player in terms of appearances, with 35.

— Will Bayern romp? They’ve scored 24 goals in the Bundesliga this season, twice as much as any other team in the league except Dortmund, who are second with three. Bayern are also making their shots count: so far, they’re converting 23.5% of their shots this season, the second-best rate among teams from Europe’s top five leagues behind the Premier League’s Leicester City (26.2%). The Bavarians also boast the fewest minutes per goal in Europe’s top five leagues this season, too, with a tally every 22.5 minutes so far. The best mark in the past 10 seasons was Real Madrid’s 28.3 minutes per goal back in 2011-12.

Prediction time!

Bayern Munich played through the summer on their way to their second Treble, and in recent weeks have shown signs things may be a little shaky on and off the pitch. Dortmund have controlled most of their games this term and must now show mental strength. With Hummels (hopefully) and Haaland on the pitch, and Reyna and Sancho providing the magic moments, this will be Dortmund’s game. — Stephan Uersfeld.

We hope it’ll be an all-action affair with action aplenty. We’re expecting plenty of goals, but it’ll end up being locked in a 2-2 draw with Haaland and Lewandowski both getting on the scoresheet. — Tom Hamilton.