When Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund lock horns tomorrow in the 100th top-flight version of Der Klassiker, it will be a game that has a lasting impact on the outcome of the 2018-2019 season.
With a scant two points separating the rivals in the Bundesliga standings, whichever team emerges victorious will have a decisive advantage heading into the home stretch of the schedule.
That fact is not lost on Bayern coach Niko Kovac, who could use a convincing win to silence the growing gallery of critics that seems to be emerging. Kovac did not hide his feelings when discussing the significance of the game for FCBayern.com:
Saturday’s game is hugely important. We all know what it’s about and what we have to do in both attack and defense to win this game. My requirement is always to win games, regardless of who we’re up against.
The task of besting Dortmund this season has not been easy for anyone in the Bundesliga. Led by veterans Marco Reus and Mario Götze, the Dortmund attack also features the wildly-talented Jadon Sancho. If all three start — as expected — that trio will present a constant headache for the Bayern defense. In the midfield, Axel Witsel and Thomas Delaney have provided a rugged, yet skillful presence, contributing on both ends of the pitch.
When assessing the last match-up between the titans, Kovac lamented his team’s second half fade that led to a 3-2 Dortmund victory.
The first half definitely belonged to us. It was really good, it was class. But then we didn’t manage to see the game out properly.
Not only Kovac, but also Bayern’s players are also amped and ready for the major challenge that awaits them. First-year Bayern man Leon Goretzka acknowledged that the magnitude and atmosphere of such a game was one of his major reasons for signing with Die Roten. Goretzka told FCBayern.com:
It’s the biggest game of the season; the whole of Germany is waiting for it. Of course we want to win the game; you join a club like this to play such matches. We’re all pumped for it. I’m 100 percent convinced we’ll put in a top performance.
Should Kovac opt to start Thomas Müller behind Robert Lewandowski and flank the duo with Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman, Bayern could be poised to apply relentless pressure to a Dortmund defensive unit that has shown serious signs of cracking in 2019.
Conversely, the aforementioned BVB attackers could just as easily cause fits for the likes of Niklas Süle, Joshua Kimmich, David Alaba, and whichever veteran between Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng that Kovac decides to start.
The game figures to be a fascinating skirmish of talented attackers and defenders who will strive not to be exposed. Which side breaks first — or more often — is likely to be the key to the game. As for Dortmund, coach Lucien Favre knows his team will be up against a grimly determined, vengeful Bayern side. It will not be easy, as he told FCBayern.com:
We need a perfect performance if we want to win.
If we learned anything from the first meeting between the squads, a sense of perfection will only be attained by a successful end product and not the 90-plus minutes it takes to get there.