Though the league, let alone the rivalry, has been dominated by one team over the past decade, this iteration of the historic Der Klassiker between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich could be one for the ages.
The Bundesliga, as is not too uncommon, has been dominated by Bayern Munich over the past decade, with the Bavarians winning the past 10 championships. The prior two titles in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 belong to Borussia Dortmund, and after seeing another team at the top of the table, Bayern decided enough was enough.
Their run of success is unprecedented, and at the outset of the year, it was hard to imagine it ending anytime soon. However, with the league entering Matchday 26, the outcome of this single game could potentially spell the end to the longest streak of national league titles in any of the five major leagues across European football.
Moreover, this particular matchup brings with it more context than just the Bundesliga title race.
Here are four storylines to keep an eye on during the most highly anticipated Der Klassiker in recent years which you can watch on Sportsnet ONE and SN NOW at 12:30 p.m. ET.
1. The hunted has become the hunter
“It’s a bad feeling at first because you need to find your feet when you have been flipped from the hunted to the hunter,” Bayern captain Thomas Müller said in an interview with Bundesliga.com. “We are used to performing under pressure, but there’s no guarantee. It’s important to not feel safe and to have these kinds of emotions in your stomach.
At the top of the Bundesliga table, you’ll find a sight that hasn’t been seen since Aug. 23, 2019: first place – Borussia Dortmund. For three and a half years Dortmund has been looking up at the summit.
The Bundesliga is in the midst of one of the closest title races in recent memory, pitting the two bitter foes together once more with only one point separating the two squads (Dortmund – 53, Bayern – 52).
There’s a solid argument to be made that whoever wins on Saturday will go on to lift the Meisterschale this season, especially when considering the form of the two teams.
So far, 2023 has belonged to Dortmund. The turn of the calendar has invigorated the team as they’ve picked up 28 of a possible 30 points since the New Year.
Die Schwarzgelben is getting hotter than hot at the right time. Their most recent result before heading into the international break was a 6-1 battering of FC Köln, making up for the 2-2 tie in the Revierderby against Schalke the week prior.
Their offence has been exceptional in 2023, scoring the most goals (30) and taking the most shots (165) in the German league.
Bayern meanwhile has struggled, collecting only 18 of a possible 30 points. Their nine-point lead in the standings has long since evaporated, leaving room for the hot northern squad to take their one-point lead.
Points-wise, with the Bavarians only having earned 52 in 25 games, this is the worst season Bayern has had in 11 years (51 points in 25 games in 2011-2012).
They come into this game having lost and drawn their last two games. The former, a 2-1 loss to Bayer Leverkusen, is especially notable. It marks the first time this season that they’ve lost a game after taking the lead.
Moreover, normally a sound defensive team, they’ve struggled to keep the ball out of the net this calendar year, allowing 14 goals in 10 games as compared to 13 goals in 15 in the first half of the season.
Bayern, for the first time in over a decade, look vulnerable. If Dortmund manage to get the win here, give themselves a four-point cushion at the top, then continue their run of form, the unprecedented dominance of their bitter rivals could come to an end. However, if Bayern manage to stymie their poor form and pick up a win here, who knows how the feeling in the locker room may shift.
“We are used to performing under pressure, but there’s no guarantee. It’s important to not feel safe and to have these kinds of emotions in your stomach,” said Müller. “The importance of this game is maybe much higher than it has been in previous years because of the situation.”
2. Tuchel’s first game back – A return to Der Klassiker
In a shocking turn of events, Bayern is coming back from the international break with a new manager at the helm – Thomas Tuchel.
However, Tuchel isn’t exactly a new participant in this rivalry. The Bavarian coach cut his teeth in Der Klassiker while managing Borussia Dortmund from 2015-2017.
After their shocking 2-1 loss to Leverkusen on matchday 25, Bayern, a club as ruthless as they are successful, fired manager Julian Nagelsmann in his third year with the team.
While rumours about Nagelsmann’s sacking swirl through the web – from locker room disagreements with Sadio Mane to issues about the former manager’s girlfriend working for one of Germany’s biggest tabloid magazines Bild – Tuchel will have to weather the storm and learn a new locker room ahead of what will be the most pivotal game of their campaign.
If the former Dortmund manager is able to steer the ship, what looks like a panic move for Bayern in the midst of a disappointing season could turn out to be a stroke of genius.
If not, then the shocked reactions of stars like Matthijs de Ligt and Leon Goretzka could become a shared sentiment throughout the locker room, and a poor season could turn into a disaster.
Having only been appointed on Monday, Tuchel doesn’t have much time to install his scheme and get to know his players. Adding onto that issue is the fact that most of his team is away on international duty, with most not returning to Munich until the end of the week.
Bayern does have a solid history when looking at the first game of newly appointed managers. The last time that a new hire lost their debut Bundesliga game was in 1994 when club legend Franz Beckenbauer took the reins.
Moreover, when Hansi Flick became the club’s interim head coach in 2019, his squad earned a 4-0 demolition of Dortmund in Der Klassiker in his first game.
On Saturday, Tuchel will get another shot at the historic rivalry, this time from the other bench. He currently has a 1-1-2 (W-D-L) record in the game.
Though he never won a league title with Dortmund, he has the chance to get his hands on the prized hardware this season with Bayern and effectively relegate his former squad to another year as the little brother.
3. Dortmund’s fearsome – but injured – attack
Opposite Tuchel is Edin Terzic. Having grown up in Menden (a town near Dortmund) supporting the team he now manages, he’s no stranger to the rivalry.
He managed the team in an interim capacity during the 2020-21 season after Lucien Favre was sacked, and got blitzed by Bayern in his introduction to Der Klassiker, losing 4-2.
The first iteration earlier this season came on matchday nine and ended in a 2-2 draw after his side was down 2-0 at half-time. That result marked the first time since 2006 that Dortmund had picked up points against Bayern after being two goals down.
During this campaign, Dortmund storming teams with goals hasn’t been uncommon. Their strength under Terzic lies in their offence, scoring the most goals in the Bundesliga in this calendar year. They possess the highest expected goals in the league in 2023 with 21.01 and have the largest separation between goals and expected goals (8.99).
Their speed has been something to behold, with star 21-year-old Karim Adeyemi taking the cake, having set the all-time Bundesliga mark for fastest speed recorded at 36.65 km/h.
However, Adeyemi is at risk of missing the tilt after having picked up a hamstring injury against Hertha Berlin back in February.
Dortmund’s prized attacking core could be depleted for the matchup, with leading goalscorer Julian Brandt (hamstring), Youssoufa Moukoko (ankle) and Jamie Bynoe-Gittens (shoulder) all doubtful ahead of Saturday.
Taking their place though aren’t names to be scoffed at. Captain Marco Reus is set to take the field for his 15th Der Klassiker, Striker Sébastien Haller would hold down the fort through the middle and the ever-sought-after Jude Bellingham will still be around to feed gorgeous passes to the men up front.
Bayern is dealing with injury concerns of their own, as forwards Jamal Musiala (hamstring) and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (back) are questionable for the game.
4. Historical tidbits for a historic bout
– Since Dortmund last won the Bundesliga in 2012, the two squads have played 21 league games: Bayern Munich 14 wins, Borussia Dortmund three wins, four draws
– Bayern has won seven of the last eight matchups with a combined goal differential of +16. The seven consecutive wins before their draw earlier this season was the longest-ever win streak Bayern has had over Dortmund.
– This game will be played at the Allianz Arena in Munich. Bayern has won the last eight Der Klassikers played in the venue.
– Additionally, in their time in the Bundesliga, Dortmund has only had a longer away losing streak against Werder Bremen from 1979-1989
– This is the 19th time the teams face each other while sitting first and second respectively in the Bundesliga. However, this is only the fifth time that it occurs while Dortmund are the team in first. The last time this happened was on matchday 28 of the 2018-2019 season and Bayern came away with a 5-0 victory.
– While Tuchel was in charge of Dortmund, he led the team to a 63 per cent win ratio. The only other coach to ever do that with the club is Edin Terzic.
Bayern Munich – Alphonso Davies, Defender
To the dismay of Bayern fans as well as Canadian fans, superstar left-back Alphonso Davies suffered an injury midway through the first iteration of Der Klassiker this year. The dynamic defender and creator had to be carried off the field by medical staff right after half-time. Bayern then proceeded to concede two late goals in the 74th and five minutes into added time.
With Davies healthy and in form, can a full outing from the speedster help shut down the blistering pace and creative onslaught from Dortmund?
Borussia Dortmund – Gregor Kobel, Goalkeeper
Kobel has missed the last two games for Dortmund due to a thigh injury, however, the 25-year-old made it clear that he’s fit for the match in Munich and expects to play. With stalwart Manuel Neuer out for Bayern, Dortmund could possess the advantage between the woodwork for the first time in decades. He’s currently tied for third in the Bundesliga with eight clean sheets and has been a stabilizing presence for a team that has lacked one from his position in recent years.
The Swiss keeper is also a name Premier League fans should keep an eye on, as he’s garnered interest from both Manchester United and Chelsea.