A clash of two Bundesliga titans
Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund nearly endured a decade without a domestic title, however, thanks to a fresh-faced squad, the black-and-yellow faithful finally had something to cheer about in 2011. The Westphalia outfit claimed last season’s title in emphatic style, leaving closest chasers Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich well in their wake.
Equipped with boundless up-and-coming stars in the likes of Sven Bender, Mats Hummels, and Shinji Kagawa, Dortmund were relishing a revival of sorts after a severe financial crisis stripped the club of its best talent in the new millennium. Bayern, meanwhile, suffered a campaign which they would like to forget after finishing ten points off the leading mark in third.
All eyes on title decider
However, with the return of coach Jupp Heynckes for his third stint with the club, Bayern are hot on leaders Dortmund’s heels with just five games left in the current season. And what will surely be a heated encounter is on the cards as reigning champions Dortmund are poised to host Bayern at Signal Iduna Park in a potential title decider on Wednesday.
When the two sides last met in mid-November, the scenario was flipped, with Bayern relishing a slender lead atop the table. However, teenage star Mario Gotze blew the title race wide open when he combined with Kagawa to seal Dortmund a narrow 1-0 win away at the Allianz Arena and put BVB within touching distance of top spot. In fact, it took only a week for Dortmund to leapfrog their rivals at the summit, with a 2-0 defeat of neighbours Schalke combined with a 3-2 loss to Mainz for Bayern enough to do the trick.
Bayern, though, are currently on a nine-game winning streak in all competitions. They cut Dortmund’s lead from five to three points just last weekend, and ensured they can take over first place on goal difference with victory on Wednesday after a hard-fought 2-1 derby triumph over Augsburg yesterday.
Despite the victory, Bayern coach Heynckes was sure to remain coy about the implications of their upcoming clash against Dortmund. “We go to Dortmund now with great optimism and huge motivation, even if that game itself won't decide the title race.”
There is no question the Bavarians are certainly flying high as they chase a historic treble. They do, however, enter the final stretch of the season with plenty on their mind. Having defeated Olympique Marseille in the UEFA Champions League to set up a semi-final encounter against Spanish giants Real Madrid, while also booking another clash with Dortmund on 12 May in the DFB-Pokal final, many have become wary of where Bayern’s focus really lies.
With the possibility of reaching a Champions League final set to take place on home soil at the Allianz Arena an enticing premise, club chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has assured Bayern are focused on all fronts. “We’re in good shape,” he said. “Fortunately, we’re still in contention in all three competitions and we’re taking them all seriously, and we’re well set for these ‘Bavarian weeks’ we’re going through with a match every four days. We need strong nerves, and I do believe that’s what we have.”
Dortmund, meanwhile, failed to impress in European competition this season, stuttering out of the Champions League bottom of their group back in December. But Die Schwarzgelben are again enjoying a fine run of form domestically as they set the pace in the Bundesliga with a record-setting 23 games unbeaten.
Klopp keeps calm
Robert Lewandowski made sure the Ruhr Valley side head into Wednesday’s encounter against Bayern with their lead intact, bagging a brace in a 3-1 victory over Wolfsburg yesterday. Dortmund coach Klopp was pleased to collect all three points in Wolfsburg, but similar to Heynckes was unwilling to concede that a loss on Wednesday would prove a fatal blow. “Of course there’s huge anticipation for the game against Bayern,” he said. “We want to put on a spectacle for the 80,000 fans, but there will be no decisive blow.”
Although Bayern hold the upper hand with more overall wins, it is Dortmund who have reigned supreme as of late. The Westphalians have secured three successive victories over the Reds in the Bundesliga since October 2010, but with a title nearly in reach, both sides will surely be hungry for success.