Whilst probably 90 percent of the football world were watching the epic battle between Manchester United and Real Madrid at Old Trafford and the rest of the world was standing still, the black and yellow fairytale of this Champions League campaign continued. A 3:0 victory over Shakthar Donetsk that never looked in doubt saw Borussia Dortmund qualifying for the Quarter Finals for the first time in 15 years.
The (re-)development of Borussia Dortmund is quite impressive. After winning the Champions League in 1997 they were nearly bankrupt in 2005. It’s been a long march back to the top and this year they have proven their quality even at an international stage. They eased through the vaunted ‘group of death’ leaving English and Dutch champions Manchester City and Ajax Amsterdam to fight for the Europa League. The have yet to lose a Champions League game in this campaign and sent all three group opponents back home with zero points in their pocket after visiting the majestic fortress ‘Signal Iduna Park’ in Dortmund. This almost heroic success made even Sir Alex Ferguson recently declare that Borussia is one of the ‘dark horses’ to go for title glory.
Entering the round of sixteen Dortmund drew Shakthar Donetsk, who had just left the previous Champions League winner Chelsea playing for the silverware in the Europa League. “There was a reason why both teams came to this stage”, said Jürgen Klopp. His counterpart Mircea Lucescu even went as far as saying “who ever wins this game, will go to the final.” Now we know that it won’t be Shakthar…
Another German contender for a spot in the final is the German powerhouse Bayern Munich, who are striving to break record after record in Germany. With only eight goals conceded in the national campaign so far they are likely to set a new benchmark for the lowest goals conceded in one season (previously 21, by Bayern in 2007/08). They can also beat the record of highest overall points in one Bundesliga season, if they get at least 18 points out of their last 10 games.
But Bayern and particularly their widely respected president Uli Hoeneß tend to present them selves a bit too confidently when they are back on the winning track. Last weeks victory in the German Cup was the first one in seven games against Borussia, five of which were losses in consecutive games with the climax last years 2:5 in the German Cup final. The thorn had been deep and that’s why Uli Hoeneß didn’t waste any time to state that Bayern Munich has won back the “supremacy” in German football now. Knowing about the successful history of the club and previous statements of his president the new Bayern sporting director Mathias Sammer tried to conciliate the comments of Hoeneß by saying: “We are talking a little bit too much and have to discipline ourselves as the club as a whole.”
Of course, the current 17 points advantage in the German Bundesliga has made Bayern more relaxed towards their ‘noisy neighbors’, which Dortmund could probably be called even though both sides are separated by some 600 kilometres. Ever since the 90’s Bayern had won the German league at least in every second season, no opponent seemed to be strong enough in the long term. But then and almost from nowhere came Jürgen Klopp and his “kindergarten” (they currently have an average age of just over 24 years), claiming 2 consecutive league titles and one German Cup victory in the above mentioned final where they outplayed Munich…
However, the signs for Bayern look quite strong, particularly with their surprising coup of snapping up Pep Guardiola who will succeed Jupp Henyckes next season. Former Bayern and German national goalkeeper Oliver Kahn even went as far as commenting :
“It will be interesting to see how much progress in the style of play they can still make: whether Bayern can dominate European football for a couple of years like Barca did.”
What currently gives Bayern Munich the edge over Dortmund is the strength in depth of the whole squad. They easily coped with the substitution of a Franck Ribéry, who undoubtedly is at the top of his game this season but was suspended in the clash against Dortmund. However, the recently more and more frustrated Arjen Robben joined the starting XI and claimed the 1:0 winner in a tight encounter. Jupp Heynckes also understands how to rotate confidently between his two strike forces Mario Mandžukić (15 goals in 20 league games) and Mario Gómez (6 goals in 12 league games), who was recovering from a severe injury during the first half of the season. The atmosphere is positive and Bayern appears to be stronger after last year’s Champions League final defeat against Chelsea.
Commendable defensive work (as a team; by the way something in which I saw Real Madrid struggling in last nights encounter at Old Trafford), and counter attacks at lightning speed (which may be an advantage against older squads like Milan or PSG, if they go through) as well as the Borussia Dortmund perfected ‘counter pressing’ are tactics or playing styles which will see both the German sides ask questions of any team which still is in this seasons Champions League campaign.
By the way ‘counter pressing’ is the favourite tactic of Dortmund’s coach Jürgen Klopp and has been helping to make their football so attractive over the last two seasons, some even called it sexy. Klopp, who during last years European Championship declared that ‘counter pressing’ is the best playmaker and the Barcelona of previous seasons was the best example for this style of play.
“The best moment to win the ball is immediately after your team just lost it. The opponent is still looking for orientation where to pass the ball. But ‘zack’ [German expression for quick surprise] your players are already hunting the ball again.”
This beloved ‘counter pressing’ was also the reason for a feisty comment by Klopp after last week’s loss against Bayern Munich. He compared the situation between Dortmund and Munich with the Chinese in industry :
“Bayern go about football in the same way that the Chinese go about industry. They look at what the others are doing, and then they copy it with other people and more money. And then they overtake you”
The comment was probably related to Munich’s strong advantage in the transfer market (it has to be acknowledged that this is based on a sound and healthy financial running of the club), which is likely to see ‘Kloppos’ top striker Robert Lewandowski departuring to Munich after this season. Of course, the German media didn’t have to wait long for the response from Munich. This time it was Jupp Heynckes who annoyingly stated that,
“Bayern Munich has existed a little bit longer than Jürgen Klopp is active as a coach and always had its own way of playing football.”
Be it Bayern’s own playing style or be it copied, one thing is for sure; both German teams can dominate almost any opponent on national and international level. What Bayern achieves with the experience from most of their players (with an average age of just under 27 years they are still quite young compared to other European top sides) is equal to Dortmund with the hunger of their young squad. Whoever will face one of them in the next round, it’s going to be a tough one. And if eventually the success won’t come in this season, its shadow has already faced the likes of Ajax Amsterdam, Manchester City, Shakthar Donetsk and soon to be Arsenal…