Der Klassiker is only a relatively new name, conjured up by marketing boffins as a way of selling Germany’s answer to El Clasico. However, unlike its Spanish inspiration, it is not Germany’s longest or biggest rivalry. In fact, the first meeting of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund didn’t even take place until 1965. However, despite the lack of tradition, in recent years it has begun to live up to the billing as the most important game in Germany, with Bayern and Dortmund dominating the league table. This year’s derbies have taken on an even greater significance as BVB finally look to end Bayern’s run of Bundesliga titles.
The first Klassiker of the season was an exciting encounter, with Dortmund ending a three-game losing streak against their title rivals. Robert Lewandowski scored twice at Westfalenstadion to put Bayern in cruise control, but Dortmund came out like a different side in the second-half with Lucien Favre’s half-time team talk and tactical tweaks turning the tide as Marco Reus levelled the game with two goals before substitute Paco Alcacer grabbed the winner.
Saturday’s meeting between the sides is even more significant as Bayern Munich look to pick up the three points to take them back above Borussia Dortmund in the table and Niko Kovac looks to keep his job. Dortmund are currently two points clear, so a win at the Allianz Arena would put them five points ahead with just seven games remaining.
Kovac should have almost a full squad to choose from, with Manuel Neuer back in contention after missing the midweek cup victory over Heidenheim and last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Freiburg. James Rodriguez was taken off at half-time in the nine-goal cup thriller, where Lewandowski was introduced to help save the game and avoid his team-mates playing an extra 30 minutes ahead of the BVB clash. Corentin Tolisso and Arjen Robben are long-term absentees, while Alphonso Davies is also sidelined.
Marco Reus missed out last week as Dortmund defeated Wolfsburg 2-0, but was absent because he had become a father and has no current injury worries. Achraf Hakimi, on the other hand, will miss the rest of the season, while Abdou Diallo is also a doubt. That could result in Favre being forced to field another makeshift backline, moving Raphael Guerreiro and Marius Wolf to the full-back slots or else risking Lukasz Piszczeck and Marcel Schmelzer on the flanks despite recent injuries and lack of game time for both.
Bayern will try to exploit these weaknesses on the wings, playing Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry from the start to try to take hold of the game early. However, after conceding four goals to a second-tier side in midweek, Kovac is keen to emphasise the defensive part of Bayern’s game.
“I see it like this: attacking is art, defending is a craft.
You have to convince the players with arguments. I always tell them the same thing but they have to implement it. Of course, it can make you mad but you just have to keep going. Everyone makes mistakes, that is human.” He said in the pre-match press conference.
Favre is fully aware of the challenges facing Dortmund on Saturday, telling reporters: “We have to put in a top performance and do everything perfectly if we want to win. We already showed in the home game that we can beat them and that we can always come back.
We also had a look back over the last few years. I think that since 2011 we’ve won five times including in the cup and in Munich. But I don’t think the current players are all that interested in the last few years, and how the statistics are looking.
We need a top performance to do well there. That is quite clear. We need to show courage and I don’t think you can just defend. We need a top performance.”
With both teams aiming for victory, Der Klassiker should definitely live up to the name.