They called it the ‘scared rabbit' final. The saying ‘deer caught in headlights' came to the mind. One of them had a history of last minute failures to associate themselves with. And yet again, they were rewarded for all their efforts with nothing but some medals which meant little to their players and their board members.
Stefan Kiessling went up to collect his runner up medal. Kiessling had played a big part in dismantling Bayern in the quarterfinals. In the final, he failed to produce as his team fell prey to Mesut Özil's strike for Bremen. Bremen lifted the 2009 DFB Pokal final but was in for plenty of heartbreak the following season as they finished runner up in two competitions.
The final to be hosted in Wembley will certainly not resemble the ‘scared rabbit' final. However, in a final featuring Bayern, it is difficult not to bring up that final. In 2012, Bayern just did not seem to want to win the home final, like Leverkusen in 2009. They had every chance to but lost it not once, not twice, but thrice. The third time is the charm; the third piece of the puzzle is what has propelled Bayern to great heights this season. But reaching great heights does not make a great team.
That almost sounds a bit too ironic, does it not?
Great heights have peaks of their own. And Bayern has only stared at the peak for far too long. Thomas Müller does not want the ‘loser' moniker on his shoulders. That is exactly what makes this final the hardest of the three, despite the fact that the opponent is not quite as established in the current hierarchy of European football (at least according to the UEFA rankings) as the previous opponents Bayern took on in the final.
In 2010, Bayern had an excuse. The final was their first in nine years. Reaching the final with their ‘devil may care' attitude was a wonderful journey in itself. The runners up medals were collected with pleasure; they came up against a truly great Inter Milan side. In 2012, the squad lacked depth and to a certain extent, belief. Bastian Schweinsteiger, the heart and soul of their midfield, had been missing for a large part of the campaign. Jürgen Klopp's BVB only had domestic competitions to care for, making the league and cup battles much more difficult.
This time, there are no excuses. The individuals are experienced, there is great depth in the squad and Schweinsteiger is and has been fully fit throughout the season.
Add to that the fact that Bayern has actually beaten Dortmund twice and it is incredibly obvious that Bayern has nowhere to hide. They have won the battles and hence they are well prepared for the war. I am sure that I am not the only one who feels that the Bundesliga shield and possibly the cup with the green jewels will mean very little if Bayern does not win the cup with the big ears.
Now, let's move on to the match itself.
Mario Götze has been ruled out. Mats Hummels is a doubt. Do these players make a difference to the complexion of the final? In a nutshell, no. This is because finals are more about passion and less about tactics. Tactical perfection would have won Bayern the finale in 2012. One can argue Jose Mourinho got it perfectly right in 2010; he didn't precisely because Müller and Howard Webb could have changed the face of that final so easily. The simple problem though is that Reus will have to move to the center- from the center he has disappointed for BVB.
Also, Götze's injury will allow one of Dortmund's most hardworking Bayern hating players to feature; Kevin Grosskreutz's dreams are set to come true on Saturday. In simple words, the fan might feature in the Champions League final. Klopp might even shift the visionary Gündogan into the hole behind Robert Lewandowski and play Nuri Sahin in midfield. He will perhaps not try the 4-3-2-1 he tried in the Pokal though, with Grosskreutz for extra power in midfield. Or he might even play Sahin in the hole, leaving the Bender-Gündogan pairing intact.
Hummels' season has been riddled with ridiculous errors, some of which could have been extremely costly, especially one against Malaga and another one against Real Madrid. Felipe Santana has been excellent for Dortmund; BVB's decision to push him across the Ruhr divide is indeed strange. He is the reason they made the semis of course.
For Bayern, for the first time in three finals, nobody is suspended. The sad news of course is that Holger Badstuber, who was suspended for the 2012 final, faces ten months on the sidelines. Bayern has reiterated that his career is not in danger; one can take hope by looking at how Jack Wilshere managed to come back after a year and a half out. Injuries though usually bring one name to my mind: Owen Hargreaves.
Toni Kroos is of course out. Kroos, in his best ever season at club level, will not be able to feature against the side he broke down so expertly in their first league meeting this season. Waiting on the wings is a hungry Arjen Robben, one who needs redemption, one who needs not to lose again on the big stages. Fortunately for him, Wembley brought him one of his trophies, namely the FA Cup with Chelsea.
These two teams are so similar to each other that talking about tactics is tiresome. Both love to press and counterattack. Dortmund presses more intensely than Bayern; Bayern still likes to have a bit of possession but can do without it too as the Champions League semis demonstrated. Dortmund hammered Ajax with about as much possession as Bayern had against Barca in the first leg.
Some are under the perception that BVB likes to attack through the center while Bayern through the wings. While this is not exactly a perception, it is not fully true either. Bayern used to score a lot of goals via Kroos, which means they created a lot through the center. With the return of Arjen Robben to the lineup, they have become a bit more wing based. For BVB, a lot of their attacks come through Reus and Reus of course features on the wing.
BVB's usual tactics were to double up on Bayern's wings to shut them off. This plan failed massively this season as Bayern used Dante's long balls, Kroos' vision and Mario Mandzukic's physicality to bite BVB where it hurts most- in the center. However, BVB's counterattacking abilities remain wonderful. Previously, none of us would have doubted Dante's abilities to stop them. Following the match against Gladbach, there is a 0.5 percent doubt within the mind.
Overall, both these teams aren't too far apart on the pitch. On the bench, there are differences nonetheless. Bayern has countless options to choose from. Xherdan Shaqiri is one of them as is Mario Gomez.
For the Bundesliga, this marks a wonderful conclusion to its 50th season. Who will the Bundesliga fans be supporting? Most neutrals will lend their hearts to Dortmund of course. Schalke fans will be bending towards Bayern as, if Bayern wins, their club is in line for monetary compensation for Manuel Neuer.
Götze's injury is perhaps good for both sides. If he plays poorly in the final, he will be accused of playing for his future employers. If he featured and played well, the Bayern faithful would definitely give him a hard time the following season. The final is set up as perfectly as possible.
Here is a looking at the probable starting lineups:
Lukasz Piszczek- Mats Hummels- Neven Subotic- Marcel Schmelzer
Ilkay Gündogan- Sven Bender
Jakub Blaszczykowski- Nuri Sahin- Marco Reus
Philipp Lahm- Dante- Jerome Boateng- David Alaba
Bastian Schweinsteiger- Javier Martinez
Arjen Robben- Thomas Müller- Franck Ribery
Fort Dortmund, the two that count the most are Gündogan and Reus. These two are the ones who have taken Dortmund to unimaginable heights in the Champions League. While Lewandowski has contributed as has Weidenfeller, Gündogan's passing under pressure and simple calm has been a key to Dortmund riding out moments of pressure, especially against Real Madrid. Reus' addition was a masterstroke by Jürgen Klopp; his unpredictability has simply made Dortmund a team worthy of the Champions League.
For Bayern, there are also two which count the most; they are indeed irreplaceable. The first is Bastian Schweinsteiger; two of the three matches that Bayern lost this season occurred when Schweinsteiger, the beloved non-captain (those of you who read The Guardian will know why I mentioned this), was not on the pitch. The second one is of course Thomas Müller. Müller is not the most extraordinary player on a team filled with extraordinary stars. However, he is the winning piece of the puzzle.
He converted a crucial penalty against Lille, he scored in the Champions League finale, and he struck against Barcelona. Muller is the man for the big occasion. Keeping him out would be a huge mistake. Even substituting him is a mistake as we all know by now. Never substitute Thomas Müller!
In one of her recent articles, Amy Lawrence felt that Bayern in 2001 played not to lose than to win. Should they do the same this time?
Finally, going back to Saturday's Bundesliga battles, Robert Lewandowski almost stole the top scorer crown from Stefan Kiessling with his goal against Hoffenheim. Kiessling's ninetieth minute goal against HSV saw the predatory and hardworking striker take home a well deserved Bundesliga cannon.
Kiessling worked in every second of every match for the crown. He gradually developed every season and finally managed to earn the crown this season by honing his skills and reaching perfection. Bayern has done the same. Will they earn what could have been their crown a year ago this season?
As always, thanks for reading!