Classicer clashes between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund rarely need any extra fanfare.
But Saturday’s eagerly anticipated meeting at the Allianz Arena comes with several intriguing subplots.
The two rivals are separated by just a point at the top of the Bundesliga table with Dortmund desperate to break Bayern’s decade-long grip on the title after chasing them since the winter break.
Then we have newly installed Bayern coach Thomas Tuchel taking on his former employers in his first match after succeeding the sacked Julian Nagelsmann.
Tuchel opened up about his dismissal from Chelsea before the match but insisted he was fully focused on getting off to a perfect start as Bayern coach.
Borussia Dortmund are the Bundesliga leaders and Germany’s brightest side as they head to the Allianz Arena on Saturday night for a classic with Bayern Munich.
Bayern haven’t always played their best but are still on course for three titles
There is a proper title race in Germany at last with Dortmund a point clear of the champions
Saturday night’s result wouldn’t decide the outcome of the championship, but a Dortmund victory would not only put them four points clear, it would be a massive statement that a changing of the guard in German football is imminent.
After Dortmund’s Champions League exit to Chelsea, Dortmund have had fewer matches and fewer distractions than Bayern during the run-in as they bid for their first Bundesliga title since the Jurgen Klopp era in 2012.
Bayern fell against Manchester City in a mouth-watering European quarter-final, and Tuchel – who led Chelsea to glory just two years ago – will hope to lead them all the way.
But the five additional matches they’ll have to complete from here require maximum effort and will drain precious energy.
Dortmund’s loss at Stamford Bridge was their only reversal since the German season resumed in late January after the World Cup and traditional winter break.
They have won nine of their 10 league matches, collecting 10 more points over that period than struggling Bayern to rise from sixth to first.
Goals poured in for Edin Terzic’s side, who have averaged three per league game since the turn of the year, with Sebastien Haller, Donyell Mallen and Marco Reus all on target in their latest 6-1 win over Cologne. .
For now, Jude Bellingham remains their top scorer this season with 10 goals, and the England midfielder’s stock is rising with each passing weekend.
Thomas Tuchel is the new man in charge at Bayern after the sacking of Julian Nagelsmann
Tuchel knows everything about coaching Borussia Dortmund between 2015 and 2017
His attacking contributions for club and country may be more pleasing to the eye, but Bellingham has actually won more individual challenges in the Bundesliga (380) this season than any other player.
However, Bellingham’s creation in midfield is just the beginning of Dortmund’s resilience. Niko Schloterbeek won a higher percentage of duels (68.2) than anyone else this season and Terzic’s side earned 49 yellow cards.
Edin Terzic put Dortmund within striking distance of their first Bundesliga title since Jurgen Klopp was manager
With Emre Can also in fine form (and back from a one-match suspension), Dortmund will certainly not be pushed at the Allianz Arena unlike many times back then.
They boast a quality strength in depth as well, which keeps pushing the title. The Dortmund substitute has scored 10 goals so far this season, an absolutely essential feature for any title-winner.
“We have an opportunity to make a statement. Both for us and for the title race,” Terzic said before the match.
We can take the energy we’ve worked on over the past weeks and months to create the feeling that we are there for each other.
“We have to be brave to take our chances and show a different face than we had in recent years in Munich.”
Terzic is hinting at something Dortmund deeply laments about. Bavaria’s title ambitions have been brutally put down several times – the last few encounters there in the then league finished 3-1, 4-2, 4-0, 5-0, 6-0, 4-1 and 5-1 at Bayern Munich. favor.
Klopp led Dortmund to their last Bundesliga success in 2012, but Bayern have since lifted the trophy for 10 consecutive seasons.
Nagelsmann led Bayern to the title last season but their dominance is under threat
If Dortmund can overcome the psychological hurdle holding them back at the Allianz Arena, they may have a shot at success.
Terzic acknowledged Nagelsmann’s departure and Tuchel’s arrival hampered his preparations.
“We don’t know how much Thomas Tuchel will build on the way Julian Nagelsmann has played in recent weeks, or if he will have completely new ideas,” he said.
We won’t know until kick-off but Bayern will always be Bayern. Despite the departure of leader Robert Lewandowski last summer, they have had no trouble finding the net this season.
They have smashed 72 goals in the Bundesliga so far – far more than anyone else – with Jamal Musiala, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Thomas Müller, Serge Gnabry and others posing plenty of attacking threats.
Jude Bellingham and Emre Can celebrate Dortmund’s goal in their recent derby with Schalke
Bayern’s Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (right) celebrates with Jamal Musiala and Leon Goretzka
It’s a yin and a yang too, with Bayern also boasting the strongest defense in the division, with just 27 goals conceded in 25 games (and they think that’s pretty high).
They have looked prone to errors at times, but Dayot Upamecano, Matthijs de Ligt, Benjamin Pavard and Alfonso Davies aren’t exactly a bad backline.
Tuchel specializes in creating teams that are hard to break, and he does so with three central defenders along with a central midfielder, allowing the wing-backs to run forward.
It is something Nagelsmann has begun to implement in the final weeks of his reign. In the recent loss to Bayer Leverkusen, for example, Joao Cancelo was pushed a lot further forward on the right, with Leroy Sane fulfilling the same role on the left.
Davies could do the job well, of course, and Kingsley Coman played at right-hand side in the Champions League win over Paris Saint-Germain.
Bayern also have top-tier midfielders Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka to provide insurance for their defenders.
They rarely lose at home either. It’s 20 home matches in the Bundesliga and 13 months since Bayern have excelled at home.
Tuchel knows Bayern’s mentality and said all the right things in his press conference on Friday.
Bayern took a two-goal lead in the reverse fixture at Westfalen in October
Dortmund came back again to win a point, but Anthony Modeste (left) equalized
“When you get to Bayern Munich in April and you’re one point off top and in the quarter-finals, you want all the trophies – that’s the focus,” he said.
Of course we want a certain style of play. But we have a chance to win three titles – and we will fight for it.
With the trophy-winning clumps of knowledge in the dressing room now married to a former Champions League-winning coach, Bayern could do just that.
But there is real steel around Dortmund at the moment and they are the shining side here. With championship racing on a knife edge, this could easily be the best Klassiker for years to come.