By JUSTIN FERGUSON
Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund will make UEFA Champions League history on Saturday when the two giants square off at Wembley Stadium in London in the first all-German final.
It will be a banner day for the Bundesliga, which has rallied from a mid-2000s slump in continental play to put its name in the running today for the title of best league in Europe. Germany’s top division is assured of its first Champions League crown since Bayern’s 2001 penalty kick shootout victory over Valencia in Milan.
Bayern will be hoping that the third time will be the charm at London’s Wembley Stadium on Saturday. Since their 2001 title win, Bayern have failed to reclaim Europe’s top club prize on two separate occasions—2010′s 2-0 loss to Inter Milan in Madrid and 2012′s penalty kick shootout loss to Chelsea in their own backyard.
Bayern bounced back from their disappointing trophy-less season one year ago and put together one of the most dominant seasons in recent European history. The Bavarians outscored Bundesliga opponents 98-18 en route to their record 23rd domestic league title. The last time Bayern took the field in this season’s UCL, they demolished mighty Barcelona 7-0 in two legs.
While rivals Bayern have taken control of the spotlight as the best team in the world this season, former Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund have continued their run as a force in the European game. Dortmund went undefeated in this year’s UCL “Group of Death” and pulled off a remarkable finish in their quarterfinal with Malaga. Their 4-1 first leg drubbing of Real Madrid in the semifinal allowed Dortmund to cruise into the Bernabeu and punch their first ticket to the UCL final since their 1997 victory.
The rivals tied in both of their Bundesliga matches this season, but Bayern won their German Cup and Super Cup matchups by one goal. However, Dortmund had won four straight matches against Bayern before this season began—wins that played a vital role in their back-to-back league title campaigns.
One of the biggest stories in the long buildup to this final has been Dortmund’s Mario Götze. Bayern shocked the world last month by triggering the 20-year-old star’s €37 million release clause in his Dortmund contract. The Dortmund academy product, who has been a vital part of the club’s return to prominence, will be the most expensive German player of all-time when he makes the move to Munich next month.
Götze went down with a hamstring injury early in Dortmund’s second semifinal leg with Real Madrid. Although there was a push to get the midfielder back for the final against his future club, Dortmund announced earlier this week that he would be unavailable for Saturday’s match.
The midfielder’s spot on the sideline will mean more than just the awkward Current Club vs. Future Club drama that surrounded Götze these past few weeks. His work as attacking midfielder has been crucial to Dortmund’s offense this year, and the squad has not won since his injury in late April. Even though they were meaningless matches in the Bundesliga picture, Dortmund drew twice and lost to relegation candidates Hoffenheim this month.
Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp will most likely slide Marco Reus from his usual position out on the wing into Götze’s position in the 4-2-3-1 formation. Reus, who has tallied 18 goals and 11 assists in his first season with Dortmund, will look to provide service down the middle to red-hot striker Robert Lewandowski. The Polish goalscoring machine has netted nine goals in his last 10 matches, which includes his remarkable four-goal performance against Real Madrid.
On the other side, Bayern Munich manager Jupp Heynckes will be able to field an almost full-strength lineup on Saturday. Central midfielder Toni Kroos was also unable to make it back from his lengthy injury in time for the trip to Wembley, but Heynckes will be able to rely on Thomas Müller, who has recently played some of his best games this season at the playmaker role.
The more consistent lineup makes Bayern the favorites heading into Saturday’s final. Since their second leg loss to Arsenal in March’s Round of 16, Bayern have only drawn once in an undefeated tear through Germany and Europe. A treble is in reach for Bayern and Heynckes, who has only two matches left before handing over the reins to Pep Guardiola.
Still, Dortmund have produced some outstanding performances against the odds in their Champions League campaign and are always a tough opponent for Bayern. Recent history suggests this historic final will be a close one with the potential of being an instant classic.
What do you think of the matchup? Think Reus will be able to fill in successfully for the injured Götze? How much will the midfielder’s absence play a part in the final? See Bayern continuing their season of dominance and breaking their slump in UCL finals? What do you predict the final score will be?
Share your thoughts below.