Bundesliga MD 07 Preview: Dortmund vs. Bayern
On Saturday evening, Borussia Dortmund will host FC Bayern for Saturday’s late kick-off game. With the exception of one victory in the DFL Supercup in 2018, Dortmund have only managed one win in the last seven matches against Bayern. They have a goal tally of 5 for and 23 against during this period.
This sounds an awful lot like one team being enshrined firmly at the top of the league while the other is trying with all might to dislodge them from their pedestal – but is never quite able to make it, failing again and again eventually. The only exceptions have been when Bayern themselves have gone through weaker periods and thus helped their contenders from the Ruhrgebiet a little. But in truth there has not been a meeting of equals at the absolute peak of their powers for some time now.
The closest the two sides came to something like that was in the last match: Lucien Favre’s team actually managed to offer credible resistance in Bayern’s narrow 1-0 win in Dortmund. Clever shifts of the play, a compact, deep defense with well-timed scrambles forward, and above all good playful solutions against Bayern’s attacking press held the game in a tight balance over long periods. In the end Kimmich decided the game with a skillful chip over Bürki.
In view of the season so far, a similarly tight affair could possibly be in the offing this time around. Dortmund currently have the best defense in the league, having conceded the fewest goals, while Bayern are used to making short work of opposing defensive lines. But Dortmund currently are in good shape and, in contrast to many other clashes in recent years, should welcome their opponents with a good deal of self-confidence.
Composure, poise, good organization, and lots of offensive penetration have characterised Dortmund’s game in recent weeks. Most recently, they managed to keep a clean sheet four times in a row. However, they have not really been forced to prove their mettle yet. The 3-1 defeat against Lazio at the start of the Champions League caused some unrest, but Favre has reacted and adapted his system a bit. Now, instead of three at the back, Dortmund once again play with a back four.
Whether this (minor) adjustment will be enough to redress the fundamental problems Dortmund have repeatedly shown over the last years remains to be seen. But things have been looking up lately. Against FC Bayern Dortmund’s performance will have to take another step up and they will need to play with more courage than in previous meetings to pass their first big test of the season.
Mentality, when used in a football context, often remains a rather diffuse and intangible construct. What does someone want to tell us when they speak of a ‘lack of mentality’? In the case of Dortmund, it is often suggested that the team cannot really put up a fight and shift gear if things do not go according to plan.
Especially in the direct duels with FC Bayern, Dortmund’s approach to the game and their attitude have often been the target of criticism: Too wait-and-see, too fearful, too cautious. The question of mentality clearly is more than a simple switch that can be flipped at will.
Sebastian Kehl, head of the first team players department at Dortmund, presented himself quite optimistic and appealed to the courage of the team. Because in last season’s reverse fixture it became clear once again: If Dortmund play a high, aggressive and courageous midfield press, they can hurt Bayern. If they sit only ten yards deeper, they are in danger of becoming too passive.
Bayern have the enormous quality of being able to work their way into every game and always seem capable of shifting up a gear or two if needed. Dortmund has often lacked this quality. It could come down to this again at the weekend.
As far as tactics are concerned, it will be hugely important for Favre to take Joshua Kimmich out of the game as far as possible. Kimmich is the heart of the Bayern team, dictating the pace and direction of the game. As was shown in particular against Moscow and Salzburg, it hurts Bayern if their radius of action can be restricted.
Both teams, Salzburg and Lokomotiv, played in a 4-3-2-1 system – each interpreted differently. Both thus made the centre extremely narrow. Kimmich but also the two central defenders found it difficult to find spaces between the lines from where they could release their offensive players.
Favre will most likely not copy this 4-3-2-1. Not least because he knows that it takes an extreme amount of work to maintain shape and coordination in this formation. In the end, Salzburg were dead on their feet, allowing Bayern to pounce on them by shifting the play regularly and open up spaces on the wings and in the half-spaces. These are natural weak spots in a 4-3-2-1 formation.
But Favre can take an example from how Salzburg and Lokomotiv set up to block Kimmich’s way forward and isolate Bayern’s full-backs. Salzburg shifted several times in a way that their own shape was diagonally aligned with the opposing full-backs. This often prevented a trademark move by the Flick Bayern: An incisive pass from the outside in between the lines.
The outcome of the game will therefore also depend on how well Favre will be able to organize his team according to Bayern’s preferred way of playing. If they consistently sit too deep and defend too passively, the chances of gaining a victory are rather slim. If they however close down their opponents earlier at times and also manage to stay compact, this should significantly increase their chances.
On the other hand, it will be important for the side from Bavaria to disrupt Dortmund’s build-up game as often as possible. One key to the black and yellows is their left-back Raphaël Guerreiro. The Portuguese is technically strong, fast on his feet and in his head, can act under pressurey, and is very dangerous in front of goal. In short, he brings everything to the table to be bake to hurt Bayern.
Due to his diagonality and because he often cleverly links up with his midfield partners, he is difficult to defend. Bayern will have to find the right angle to restrict his play. Thomas Müller could play a key role in this respect, because he is not only strong at organizing the game against the ball, but also good at anticipating opposing movements.
Besides Guerreiro, Mats Hummels will be a decisive factor in the game if he gets fit in time. Hummels is able to play defense splitting passes that can foil the opponent’s pressing at source. In midfield, Mahmoud Dahoud has been in strong form recently. The German international is technically very gifted and is nimble enough to maintain the ball against attacking opponents. However, he suffers from poor decision making at times. If he does not play, Jude Bellingham, who has also already proved that he can be calm under pressure, will probably start.
If Bayern can take these three players out of the game, the chances of an away win will increase enormously. If they do not, the game could easily take a different turn. Especially Erling Haaland with his clever runs in behind is hard to stop if he receives proper service from these players. The results of this Bayern was able to experience first hand as recently as the game against Salzburg.
It could also be a good idea for Bayern to put Manuel Akanji under pressure. The 25-year-old proves to be a source of frequent mistakes when he is put under pressure. Dortmund would therefore be well advised to prevent Bayern from isolating and getting to him in the first place.
In Dortmund, the Klassiker has often been decided on efficiency. Consider for example the last time Bayern played away at Dortmund: Haaland missed some good opportunities whereas Kimmich scored almost with his first chance. Such fine margins naturally influence the outcome of a game. It is quite possible that both teams will neutralise each other for a long time before the game is decided by one efficiently converted opportunity.
As we have already stated, if Haaland is able to pick up speed and receive the ball in behind Bayern’s back line, Bayern will have a problem. In the last games, individual mistakes by David Alaba or Benjamin Pavard brought about to such situations. Against Dortmund it will therefore be important that Bayern’s protection at the back is more stable and reliable than in the last games. They need to show greater organization and better coordination in their backward movements as well as better timing in one-on-one duels. In all these areas they have already demonstrated that they are more vulnerable this season than last. Vulnerable in a way that Dortmund may very well know how to exploit.
Some reports suggest that Flick could make a number of changes to his first eleven: At right-back, Bouna Sarr could come in having improved lately in that position after a mixed start. He has already taken noticeable steps ahead in his game and week on week is better integrated into the Bayern setup. On the other hand, there have been moments where he made simple mistakes and needlessly gave the ball away. He could thus become one of Dortmund’s pressing targets, which would be his first really big test. Flick would be taking a risk. But at the moment, he would probably also do that with Pavard.
In recent years, Bayern have usually managed to find their top form just in time for the Klassiker. Will they be able to do so this time too? And with how much courage will Dortmund go into the game? Our five aspects are certainly not the only ones that will decide the biggest game in German football – but they are possibly the most important.
Meanwhile, the football hype machine in Germany is already running at full steam. But in all honesty, the game has not always managed to live up to expectations. There is a good chance that this time once again reality will not correspond to imagination.
One thing however is clear: The winner will take first place in the Bundesliga standings. And possibly also get a boost for the next few weeks. But just how big this boost will really be just before an international break is questionable. A 3-point gap at the top does not mean a fundamental change for either team. The trumped up Saturday evening top game will most likely become a relaxed Saturday evening entertainment. No more, no less.