Preview: Borussia Dortmund – FC Bayern

FC Bayern Munich find themselves in the most intense phase of the season. On Saturday evening the next big game in the league against Borussia Dortmund beckons. The Rekordmeister can go six points ahead of BVB and take a huge stride. Author: Justin • Translator: Sam

Jupp Heynckes was well aware of this scenario when he left out Hummels, Kimmich and Thiago on Tuesday. While the former two have already played more than 1000 minutes, Thiago was on the pitch for a long time in the two games against Leipzig. With that in mind, the coach accepted that the performance against Celtic would be somewhat lacking technically.

Robben could have also done with a break, but maybe Heynckes is planning that in Dortmund of all places. It’s hard to imagine, yet James and especially Kingsley Coman are in excellent form. The Frenchman has been directly involved in four games since the return of the treble coach, more than anyone else in the squad. It’s more likely, however, that Robben will have to make it through another 90 minutes. The personnel decisions in Dortmund will be all the more intriguing.

(Image: Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

On personnel decisions and the best supporting actor in the world

The most important thing will be that Lewandowski is able to play again. On Tuesday the Pole did his first running session and either way the club assumes he’ll be fit. In Glasgow it became clear that there’s no adequate replacement for him in the squad. It’s a problem that has been following FC Bayern for a while now. The most advanced position was occupied situationally by James, Coman or the advancing Vidal. It was a solution for the level of Wednesday’s game that, with a little luck, worked out, but the weekend’s game calls for Lewandowski.

In midfield, the coaching team may ask themselves the big question again: who will play in the pivot alongside Thiago? Javi Martínez could also play again in Dortmund. The Spaniard is already being celebrated by many as a defensive stabiliser and anchor of the team. And rightly so too. Martínez wins a lot of important battles and makes sure that Thiago, just like Schweinsteiger before him, has the freedom he needs.

In March we used a goal by the Spaniard to celebrate him as the unsung hero of the team – at the time still as a centre-back. He backed up his partner Mats Hummels and made sure that he was able to play with more confidence.

Nostalgia and the poor performances under Ancelotti then led to his return into midfield being seen as a long-overdue decision. But it’s not important whether Martínez is now the best centre-back partner or the best defensive-midfield partner. He’s probably even both. In recent years he was more useful at the back, now he’s needed a bit further forward again. The Spaniard is what Robin represents for Batman or Dr Watson for Sherlock Holmes: the perfect, indispensable sidekick for the main players, and thus the best supporting actor in the world.

With all of his strength in the tackle, physicality and presence, however, his technical abilities are massively underestimated. Martínez combines the classic virtues of the position with a very tidy pressing resistance and a respectable passing game. That marks the Spaniard out from Vidal or Tolisso, who often chase aimlessly between boxes going from tackle to tackle. Martínez fills precisely the position in defensive midfield painfully left behind by Xabi Alonso. Obviously rather different, because the creativity of the other midfielder is needed. But in his own way he can help us forget that Bayern no longer have a typical playmaker in the defensive midfield position.

Javi Martínez has a lot of game intelligence. Due to his body, he doesn’t always have the elegance to implement his ideas, but he knows what he can and can’t do. His build-up play is at least good enough that he makes no mistakes and is able to link up play with the players ahead of him. Like for Lewandowski’s goal to make it 2-0 against Leipzig. There’s no doubt that Martínez will once again be a key player for Bayern’s season.

The 29-year-old is particularly strong, however, when at least one, if not two creative players are put alongside him. On Saturday it became apparent that the combination of him, Thiago and Rudy in a 4-1-4-1 is probably not just the most stable but also very likely the most technically-strong solution in Bayern’s squad. It’s also imaginable that Heynckes might drop Rudy again and use James in a 4-2-3-1 in front of Thiago and Martínez. That would be less stable, but in return even more penetrative in attack.

Maybe Heynckes will go for Vidal again at the weekend, however, because he wants to have an even tougher midfield against BVB’s attack, but that again would be a technical compromise that isn’t needed against Borussia Dortmund this time.

In the last competitive game in Dortmund, Bayern won on penalties.
(Image: Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images)

Are Dortmund big title rivals?

Precisely because BVB don’t seem to be quite so dangerous this season, Bayern should strive for a dominant performance with no compromises. Under Tuchel Dortmund were defensively vulnerable too, but more structured and not so predictable. The Bosz system seems very static and the high-pressing not so detail-obsessed and suffocating as in recent years.

At the start of the season the impression was deceiving, especially in the Bundesliga, where Dortmund initially didn’t face any opponents on the same level. Even against smaller teams they passed up a few chances and revealed problems in their stability. In principle, however, their intensity and high counter-pressing were enough to defeat those teams. Because BVB’s attack is still fast, technically strong and penetrative, they also scored a lot, which papered over the cracks, but didn’t fill them.

Against Tottenham, Real Madrid, and also RB Leipzig their weak points then showed at a higher level. The big gaps between players cause holes that were exploited on turnovers. That includes in particular the central midfielders pushing up very high.

The counter-pressing, despite a lot of players being in the final third, didn’t always work smoothly and also the centre-backs aren’t often able to defend the half-spaces either side of the defensive midfielder with situational man-marking. There are big chances for Bayern in precisely these areas. Particularly if Nuri Sahin gets the nod over Weigl.

Another plea for the 4-1-4-1 with Thiago and Rudy in precisely these areas behind BVB’s central midfielders. So far they’ve been able to pick up those gaps best when at least two of Weigl, Dahoud and Götze have played. They’re the strongest options technically and generally make the fewest mistakes. But they’re also not optimally positioned in the Bosz system.

Due to the vulnerable system, it’s fully imaginable that FC Bayern will have fewer problems in Dortmund than in Leipzig. The game may become most interesting if both managers set up their midfielders so that their respective playing styles are best accentuated. So for Bayern, that’s Martínez, Thiago, and Rudy; for BVB, it’s Weigl, Dahoud and Götze. Indeed, the latter has been going somewhat under the radar lately, because he’s still suffering from expectations that don’t do him justice.

Götze is the perfect central midfielder for Borussia Dortmund. He can give them structure from there, get out of tight situations, link passing triangles, overload half-spaces and offer creativity. This campaign he’s doing all of that very well, and so he’ll also take on an important role against his ex-club.

Anyhow, Bayern have to make sure that they shift well. In possession, overload situations in the half-spaces must be provoked to guarantee connections between the wide players and Lewandowski. Off the ball it’ll depend on cutting off Dortmund’s passing lanes to the attack.

In one game, Borussia Dortmund still have all the chances to cause Bayern problems. In the long run, however, the current Bosz system will only make it more likely that RB Leipzig will become Bayern’s main title rivals.

Worth knowing before the game

  • The two best attacks in the league are going head to head. Dortmund generate 17.4 shots per game, and have already scored 27 times. Bayern shoot 20 times every 90 minutes and have scored 24 goals in total.
  • BVB only allow 8.7 shots per game, but 68% of them come from within the box, which makes for the highest proportion in the league. For Bayern it’s 8.3 opposition shots per game with only 53% in the area. Not conclusive proof, but it suggests that Borussia Dortmund allow far better chances than FCB.
  • Dortmund like to walk the ball in. 9% of all of their shots have been within the 6-yard box.
  • BVB (20) and Bayern (26) put in the most crosses in the league. Bayern also play the most long balls (75) and short passes (606) per game.
  • The game will only be broadcast on Sky Germany (kick-off: Saturday 17:30 GMT).

Expert tip

In the expert tip an external expert gives a prediction for the result of the game. It’s three points for a correct score, and one point for the right outcome (win, draw, loss). This will then be compared with a second expert tip, coming from the Miasanrot.de editorial team. At the end of the season we’ll see if the guest experts have more points than the editors.

Both sides predicted the cup game correctly in terms of the tendency, while the editors were a bit jammy in the Bundesliga game. All in all it’s now 20-13 for Miasanrot. Stephan Uersfeld from ESPN will now try to narrow the gap this week.

Stephan Uersfeld: Borussia Dortmund against Bayern Munich. Before the international break that sounded promising. A glorious ball-playing team against the Rekordmeister in crisis. Easy call. An excellent attack, constant pressure, always on it. Like crazy. On top of that, ice-cold finishes from Aubameyang, rage from Yarmolenko. Wow.

With the loss of Lukasz Piszczek, the aging right-back, everything fell apart. The defence is breached by simple long balls, Borussia’s pressing behaviour in some phases is hardly even there anymore. Then they’ve just been lacking that bit of luck. And it’s now a crisis. Even if Schmelzer didn’t want to call it exactly that.

Bayern are in Heynckes mode, they’re back in control on the pitch, they were even able to spare Lewandowski in Glasgow. After a short battle against a strong-starting Dortmund, the game will then go the way of Cando’s boys.

BVB 1-4 Bayern

Justin: I have rarely had this good a feeling before a game against Borussia Dortmund. What that means at the end of the day, we’ll see. Obviously BVB are still able to make FC Bayern look old in one game. Eventually however I believe, like Stephan, it’ll be a clear-cut matter. Heynckes will set out his stall cleverly and his team will score at least three times. They won’t, however, always be able to stop Borussia’s attack. 1-3 to the Rekordmeister.



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