DORTMUND, Germany — The German Bundesliga is easily the most entertaining league in Europe. It boasts an incredibly vibrant fan culture, sky-high attendance rates, the most goals scored in European soccer, youth, and — bucking recent trends — fierce competition at the top.
The Bundesliga champion last season was decided on the final matchday, when Bayern Munich beat Eintracht Frankfurt 5-1, giving the Bavarians a two-point lead over runners-up Borussia Dortmund. Bayern may have ultimately clinched its seventh consecutive championship, but it was the closest title race in years. The thrill of the chase was a victory for the Bundesliga and for its fans.
On Saturday, those two teams will meet for the first time this season in the DFL-Supercup. The match will be a bellwether for the season.
The significance of the DFL-Supercup
The DFL-Supercup is the first silverware of the season in Germany. The competition was established in its present form in 2010 to kick off the season with a match between the reigning Bundesliga Champion and the winner of the DFB-Pokal. Since Bayern rallied to clinch a domestic double last season, as the Pokal winner, they will face the Bundesliga runner-up, Dortmund.
The two clubs are no strangers to the Supercup: Bayern has won it seven times, and Dortmund five. At present, Bayern has won the competition three years in a row, defeating Dortmund in 2016 (2-0) and 2017 (2-2, 5-4 on penalties), and Eintracht Frankfurt last season (5-0). In the three years prior to that run, however, it was Bayern that lost the Supercup three times, twice to Dortmund and once to Wolfsburg.
The tightness of the title race last season and the signings and preseason success of both teams this summer make this particular Supercup match even more interesting. Fans and experts alike will be watching to see what this match tells us about the respective chances of Germany’s two most dominant rivals.
Bayern and Dortmund: younger, faster, stronger
Both teams have invested heavily in revamping their squads. Dortmund struck first in signing national team left-back Niko Schulz from Hoffenheim, attackers Thorgan Hazard from Mönchengladbach and Julian Brandt from Bayer Leverkusen, and none other than former captain Mats Hummels, who is returning to anchor Dortmund’s defense after three years in Munich. Newly crowned Player of the Year Marco Reus and English starlet Jadon Sancho will have far more support than they enjoyed last season. Can Dortmund seize the title this time?
Bayern has likewise been very active: the club already arranged the transfers of VfB Stuttgart’s Benjamin Pavard and Atletico Madrid’s Lucas Hernandez — both newly crowned world champions — well in advance. The Bavarians also seem to have uncovered a gem in striker talent Fiete Arp and New Zealander Sarpreet Singh, both of whom have impressed this preseason. The team has gotten younger, faster, and, so Bayern hopes, stronger.
And Bayern is not yet done: the club has been pursuing wingers to replace one or both of club legends Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben — and they may be close to finding one: it looks as if Manchester City’s Leroy Sané may indeed transfer to Munich — but fans will have to wait and see for the time being.
Two giants approaching full strength
Both teams have had highly successful preseasons, but neither will be at full strength when the clash on Saturday. Dortmund’s Brandt has been sidelined by an adductor injury, and Hazard is also doubtful to play after suffering an ankle injury in BVB’s last friendly match (a 4-1 rout of Udinese). First keeper Roman Bürki is also recovering from a shin problem. All told, however, Dortmund can still field a dangerous lineup. Striker Paco Alcacer will hope to recreate the magic of his astonishing Hinrunde last season; Mario Götze will play in support as second striker, while Reus and Sancho almost certainly will complete the attack.
In midfield, Danish international Thomas Delaney will team up with Axel Witsel, who electrified the Bundesliga after his arrival from Tianjin Quanjian in the China. On defense, Hummels and Schulz will stand opposite 20-year-old left-back Achraf Hakimi — on loan from Real Madrid — and probably Manuel Akanji. Lucien Favre and Dortmund’s famous Yellow Wall undoubtedly hope to make life difficult for Bayern.
Bayern’s ongoing project to sign Sané of course hints at their own dilemmas. Starting right winger Serge Gnabry has yet to recover from a muscle injury he picked up on tour. That probably means that Thomas Müller will play out wide rather than behind Robert Lewandowski. Opposite him, Kingsley Coman is expected to play despite a scary knee injury in the AudiCup.
Bayern’s midfield, meanwhile, is at full strength: Thiago Alcantara and perhaps Leon Goretzka stand the best chance of starting, but Corentin Tolisso and potentially even Renato Sanches might see action. Behind them, the back line is also nearly at full strength: only new signee Lucas Hernandez has yet to conclude his rehabilitation from knee surgery in January. A back four of David Alaba, Niklas Süle, Jerome Boateng or Benjamin Pavard, and Joshua Kimmich stands a good chance of absorbing whatever Dortmund throws at it. And Manuel Neuer looks more like himself after a very mixed 2018-19 season.
Fans are in for a treat tomorrow: they can expect both teams to play aggressive, attacking soccer, because both of them have something to prove: Bayern and especially head coach Niko Kovac are at pains to reassert their superiority after an up-and-down season that nearly brought their run of championships to an end. And, perhaps even more urgently, Dortmund senses that Bayern is vulnerable. The opportunity is there to make it their year after slipping last season. The struggle commences on Saturday.