German rivals in London to claim the crown

[UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE] Validating Bayern Munich's historic season at Wembley on Saturday means winning the Champions League final while beating Borussia Dortmund, two things the Bavarian giant has struggled to do. Bayern reinvented itself in order to surpass Jurgen Klopp's daring Dortmund club, and in the process became younger, more exciting and more lethal -- but can the monster from Munich finally lift the trophy?

TV: Bayern Munich–Borussia Dortmund (Saturday 2:45 pm ET, Fox)

NUTS & BOLTS: Bayern Munich set numerous records while winning the Bundesliga this year, and finished 25 points clear of 2011 and 2012 winner Borussia Dortmund, which finished runner-up.

Bayern won its UCL group on a tiebreaker then crushed Arsenal, Juventus and Barcelona. Dortmund ruled the group of death before beating Shakhtar Donetsk, squeaking by Malaga and riding Robert Lewandoski’s four goals past Real Madrid in the semis.

Bayern lost in two of the last three Champions League finals, including last May on its home field. Bayern last won the trophy in 2001, its fourth European Cup. BVB won once, in 1997. These teams played once in the UCL, with BVB beating Bayern in the 1998 UCL quarters. Both were allotted 25,000 tickets at Wembley, which holds 86,000. Dortmund had 502,567 applications for the 24,042 seats it put up for sale for this first ever all-German final.

THE HIGHEST FORM OF FLATTERY: Dortmund is based on high pressing, quick transitions and skilled players at every position. Many of the changes Bayern made this season appeared aimed at imitating, and improving upon BVB’s methods. Bayern can still win other ways -- it leads the UCL in headed goals.

THE GOETZE SAGA: Five Dortmund players are from its youth academy. Marco Reus, Marcel Schmelzer, Nuri Sahin, Kevin Grosskreutz and Mario Goetze, a 20-year-old who has been at the club since he was 9. Right before the semifinal against Madrid news broke that Bayern had bought Goetze for $47 million. Some BVB faithful burned his No. 10 and players also felt the sting.

"That was hard to take. As [Shinji] Kagawa left, or Lewandowski leaves, then you can kind of understand that, as they are not from Germany, but this has hit us personally," said Mats Hummels.

Goetze is the creator in Dormund’s vaunted trio. When UEFA’s experts rated performance during all UCL games among players with more than eight apearances in this year’s tourney, the five highest rated players were: Lewandoski, Goetze, Lionel Messi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Reus -- in that order.

But Goetze will miss the final because of a hamstring injury. Klopp must now play Reus in the hole or move Ilkay Gundogan into attack so Reus stays on the wing, highlighting Bayern’s chief advantage over all of Europe -- depth. Toni Kroos’ injury at the same position has made Bayern better. Thomas Muller has been incandescent since returning to attacking mid, and Arjen Robben from the bench to the wing has the bald bandit wreaking havoc.

The final Bundesliga game between the two teams came after the purchase was made public. It was ugly, and the altercations weren’t limited to the field. This rivalry has been simmering but many in Dortmund saw Goetze’s move as the last straw. Know this, it isn’t going to be a friendly final.

THE OTHER GUYS: Neven Subotic will become the first American citizen ever to appear in a Champions League final, the Serbian defender is a former U.S. U-17, but it's Gundogan that may be the game’s biggest key for Dortmund. From squad player to German international the 22-year-old may be asked to assume Goetze’s role, bringing his magic from the middle of the field.

Bayern broke the bank to get 24-year-old Javier Martinez. The 6-foot-3 Spaniard’s 39 interceptions lead the tourney and his athleticism in midfield has freed up Bastian Schweinsteiger to go forward. David Alaba continues his rapid ascent. The 20-year-old Austrian defender also combines on the left wing with Franck Ribery.

The retiring 68-year-old Jupp Heynckes is the “other coach." The Bundesliga’s third all-time leading scorer coached Real Madrid to the 1998 Champions League crown, but he gets second billing behind Klopp, Dortmund’s unshaven 45-year-old rock star.

Seeing Heynckes on the sidelines makes you wonder if he’ll start yelling at those kids to get off his lawn, but his tactics have been masterful. Beating the Italian and Spanish champions 11-0 during the four quarterfinal and semifinal games was an unprecedented achievement. But every fan, player and coach from Munich knows leaving London without the trophy means failure, plain and simple.

THE SKINNY: Soccer’s history lends itself to poetic narratives involving ancient deeds, but almost every participant at Wembley will have vivid recent memories relevant to the matter at hand.

With five wins and one loss in its last eight Bundesliga and German Cup matches against Bayern, Dortmund has the kind of confidence that can’t be conjured. The last time these teams were on a neutral field was the 2012 German Cup final, when Dortmund buried the Bavarian squad 5-2 behind a Lewandoski hat trick.

Bayern is loaded, built to succeed over the long haul. BVB is cool under pressure with terrific chemistry. Goetze’s injury should tip the scales but I’m still picking Dortmund. Mostly because it has a mad scientist on its sideline capable of making statements like this with a straight face -- just so he can bamboozle Bayern once more.

"If we win, we will not be the best team in the world -- we will have beaten the best team in the world." Klopp said.

1 comment about "German rivals in London to claim the crown".
  1. Andres Yturralde, May 24, 2013 at 10:45 a.m.

    I love it! Great stuff, Sir Charles.

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