The battle of Germany, the two best teams in the country and in this season’s UEFA Champions League go head-to-head for the ultimate prize.
Borussia Dortmund face off with Bayern Munich in the final of European club football’s showpiece at Wembley stadium on May 25th.
Bayern, runaway winners of the Bundesliga in record time, two time losing finalists in the past three editions and on course for a historic treble and more impressively, thrashed ‘the’ Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate en-route to the final take on Dortmund, who had been unbeaten in the competition until the second leg of their semi-final against Real Madrid (a game they feel they should probably have drawn in the least considering the number of chances they did not convert) are in the final for the first time since 1997 when they won the competition.
If that is not tantalising enough, Mario Gotze, Dortmund’s star player of the past three seasons will be on his way to Munich next season and reports suggest Robert Lewandowski may follow him as well. Now that ought to turn things up a notch.
Neutrals will say "duh," but after a few seasons figuring each other out, both sides have devised ways of nullifying each other quite effectively. Early this season, the teams played out a diplomatic 1-1 draw at the Allianz Arena, with Toni Kroos and Mario Gotze scoring for their respective sides. They met again in February in a DFB-Pokal quarter-final, Arjen Robben’s cracker deciding the fixture. It was a dull and bland affair in all honesty.
Their most recent meeting, the return leg in the league game was much livelier.
It was as dead rubber as they come, Bayern having already wrapped up the league and Dortmund having secured second place.
On the pitch though, it was a totally different story. Both teams played as if it was a cup final, when pride was all there was to play for. Tackles were flying in, referee decisions were fiercely contested and players were booked.
Bayern, testament to their enviable and remarkable strength in depth, fielded an almost second string eleven but there wasn’t much noticeable difference in their play. Dortmund took an early lead, Mario Gomez equalised and then Lewandowski missed a penalty, the ultimate see-saw 90 minutes. It is all set up nicely for the final, expect a fiesta.
That said, here are some bold predictions for that match.
1. Mario Gotze to score
It's his destiny isn't it? Fate perhaps?
Mario Goetze is a big-injury concern heading into the final after limping off at the Santiago Bernabeu, but should his hamstring be even remotely ready, Borussia Dortmund will do all they can to prepare him for a start. The “German Messi” has been a revelation since Shinji Kagawa moved to Manchester United in the central position and Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp would absolutely love a send-off gift of a goal against his future employers.
2. Extra-time and penalties
It’s just too close isn’t it? Both teams have played stellar football this season, have been at the top of the chain in Europe for the entire tournament and know each other like they know the back of their hands.
Add to that the intense pressure of a final and it’s easy to predict them being inseparable at the end of the 90 minutes.
The hunger, desire, will to win and pure evenness of both teams makes it very difficult to point out a clear favourite. Bayern look slightly in better shape than their rivals on paper but as their past three meetings testify, when they step out to Wembley, there really won’t much between them.
3. Lewandowski to fire blanks and midfielders to be pivotal for both teams
Robert Lewandowski has been prolific for Dortmund for a while now and is well revered in the Bundesliga but it was against Real Madrid that he really made a statement of his abilities to the rest of the world.
His four-goal haul in the first leg was remarkable by any standards and showcased just how lethal he can be. Everything about that performance was classic. The second leg however was forgettable really. Nothing went for him. He struck the bar, and missed two glorious opportunities that almost cost Dortmund a place in the final.
That frustrating performance showed he is still human after all and as was the case in the Euros last year, Lewandowski suffered a wasteful night in front of goal. Bayern’s tight marking and no-nonsense defending (ask one Lionel Messi) may ultimately mean fewer opportunities for him infront of goal and he may end up not finding the net at all.
For Bayern-Robben, Ribery, Muller, Kroos, Schweinsteiger, Martinez…For Dortmund- Gundogan, Reus, Gotze, Kuba, Bender. An amazing cocktail of brilliant midfielders will be ultimately decisive in the match.
Bayern’s are known to be compact, simple and their wingers explosive, Dortmund are the opposite. They are industrious, classy, prefer keeping possession and are full of trickery. Whichever team manages to impose themselves and their style of play will probably go on to win it.
4. Bayern to win in a shoot-out
If they indeed do go to a shoot-out to decide the winner, Bayern Munich will have the upper hand, both psychologically and in terms of potential penalty takers.
Yes they did lose last-year’s final against Chelsea on penalties but on the flip-side, they eliminated Real Madrid on pens as well.
Dortmund’s first choice penalty takers, Lewandowski and Kuba are not that dependable from the spot (as we saw in the league match against Bayern) and going through the rest of the squad, there aren’t that many players you would confidently want taking a penalty in such a high-pressure game.
Bayern on the other hand will feel quietly confident in their reserve batch to take penalties well and would thus be open to a shoot-out. Oh, and they have Manuel Neuer in goal.
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