Germany’s top two sides Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund meet on Matchday 25 in the Bundesliga at the Signal Iduna Park on Saturday in what could turn out to be a title deciding clash.

A win for Borussia Dortmund will narrow the gap between the sides to just 2 points and throw the title race doors wide open once again — anything else, and the Bundesliga title is Bayern’s to lose.

Both teams rested key players over the weekend keeping Saturday’s big fixture in mind. Dortmund won 2-0 away at Darmstadt in a slow and tough game which ultimately was decided by goals from Adrian Ramos and Erik Durm. Thomas Tuchel’s side remain 15 points ahead of third placed Hertha Berlin.

Bayern Munich will need to recover from a damaging 2-1 home loss to a plucky Mainz side who became the first team to beat Bayern on their home turf this season. Arjen Robben’s equaliser cancelled out Jairo Sampeiro’s opener only for Colombian striker Jhon Cordoba to wrap it all up with a great finish in the 86th minute.


Thomas Tuchel’s pragmatism

If there is a manager who can be best compared to Pep Guardiola, it is Dortmund’s Thomas Tuchel. The former Mainz man has taken a leaf out of Pep’s book and has a very clear plan when his team is in possession of the ball, unlike his predecessor Jürgen Klopp. Players like a revitalised Marcel Schmelzer, Ilkay Gündogan and youngster Julian Weigl embody this philosophy perfectly. In the final third, Tuchel’s constant positional rotation of his attacking midfield — Marco Reus, Shinji Kagawa and Henrikh Mkhitaryan — has made Dortmund a difficult team to predict.

Bayer 04 Leverkusen vs Borussia Dortmund

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While the German and the Armenian internationals have consistently performed for Dortmund, Kagawa has proven to be extremely inconsistent, but gels well with the team nevertheless. Dortmund’s biggest strength lies in the attacking trio of Mkhitaryan, Reus and Aubameyang who have 40 league goals between them this season and this front line has time and again proven to be the difference maker in tougher games.  Also, the return of Turkish playmaker Nuri Sahin after almost a year of injuries has added some much needed depth to the team. Against Porto and Hoffenheim, Sahin bossed the game from his preferred role of sitting playmaker, and now gives Tuchel a selection headache ahead of the Bayern game.

Errors in defence and vulnerability to direct attacks on the wings due to high full-back positions have stopped BVB from strolling to victory every time.  This was ruthlessly exploited by Bayern at the Allianz Arena earlier this season where they slammed their rivals 5-1. Goalkeeping is also a bit of a worry as  Roman Bürki has looked suspect on various occasions this season. His backup Roman Weidenfeller has made  quite a few errors too. Although, it must be said that this error prone defence has improved drastically in 2016, with the team boasting of 7 clean sheets in 10 games this year.

Adding to this, defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos will miss the game which will force Sven Bender or Neven Subotic to partner Mats Hummels in defence. Bender has been used as a defender almost exclusively under Tuchel, and with his efficient passing and no-nonsense tackling, it is likely that Tuchel would prefer him to the Serbian international.

Pep Guardiola’s fearsome front line

Pep Guardiola’s unique 2-3-4-1 formation at Bayern has been a tactical success in the Bundesliga and perfectly embodies his vision of midfield superiority. The formation allows full-backs Philipp Lahm and David Alaba to operate as supporting central midfielders which is perfectly suited to act as a supply squad to the fearsome attack. The attacking heavy weaponry in the form of Douglas Costa’s pace, Thomas Müller’s vision, Arjen Robben’s trickery and Robert Lewandowski’s killer instinct in front of goal has won Bayern numerous games this season and has proven to be extremely difficult to contain.

Bayern Munich vs Mainz

A big weakness, however, for Pep Guardiola’s team is the organisation of their current makeshift defence. Due to Lahm and Alaba’s positional switch, it is Rafinha and Juan Bernat who take their places as full-backs. Although both are efficient passers and tidy build-up players, they do get caught out often in higher positions in the field and are not exactly the tidiest of tacklers. This cost them dearly against Mainz, especially in Jerome Boateng’s absence. Defenders Boateng, Javi Martinez and Holger Badstuber all miss out on Saturday’s clash due to injury.

As seen against Mainz and Eintracht Frankfurt earlier, a well organised defence poses some problems for Bayern. They usually like to draw out their opponents and finish them off with measured passing in the final third. But if a team lets them have the ball and not break defensive structure, Bayern’s bite becomes somewhat limited.

Key Battles:

Ilkay Gündogan vs Xabi Alonso

Considering both teams’ offensive strengths, this is a game that could be won in midfield. German international Gündogan and veteran Spaniard Xabi Alonso are the chief creators for their teams, and their respective sides seem to visibly suffer in their absence. Alonso is often overwhelmed by faster midfielders, and if Gündogan can successfully outmanoeuvre the Bayern man, Dortmund will have a significant advantage.

Hannover 96 vs FC Bayern Munich


Mats Hummels vs Robert Lewandowski

Top scorer and former Dortmund man Lewandowski has arguably been one of Europe’s finest strikers this season. His tremendous partnership with Thomas Müller has resulted in the duo scoring 40 league goals between them already.  However, if there is one player in the league who can mark Lewandowski out of the game, it has to be Mats Hummels. The BVB captain usually plays some of his best football against Bayern, and his duel on Saturday with his former colleague should be very interesting.

Bayern Munich vs Borussia Dortmund

What to expect

The stakes could not be higher in perhaps the most meaningful of the Klassikers in recent years. Bayern, in typical fashion, play their best football under pressure, and Tuchel’s Dortmund know that this is the closest they will ever get to knocking Bayern off their perch.

Expect a close game with lots of scoring chances as Bayern try to wear Dortmund down with their lethal wing-play and possession based football. The Black and Yellows will themselves not simply sit back and try to soak in the pressure, but play with equal offensive fervour. It is now or never for Thomas Tuchel and Borussia Dortmund.

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