x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Champions League: Dortmund and Bayern a familiar tale of underdogs and overlords

Bayern Munich and their fans feel natural order has been reinstated, but Borussia Dortmund still have one glorious shot at giving them a bloody nose and being crowned champions of Europe.

Currently sporting such luminaries as Franck Ribery, second from the left, and Arjen Robben, second from the right, as well as many others, Bayern Munich appear to be the new powerhouse of Europe.
Currently sporting such luminaries as Franck Ribery, second from the left, and Arjen Robben, second from the right, as well as many others, Bayern Munich appear to be the new powerhouse of Europe.

As Borussia Dortmund prepare to meet mighty Bayern Munich in the Uefa Champions League final, they will do well to remember the tale of Valencia in 2000.

Hector Cuper's exciting team had enchanted Europe on the way to the final at the Stade de France in Paris, against Real Madrid. On the big day, however, the difference in class showed, with goals by Fernando Morientes, Steve McManaman and Raul giving Vicente del Bosque's team a comfortable win.

Primera Liga's Valencia and Madrid then; the Bundesliga's Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich now.

Almost inevitably, the fixture list has the German teams facing each other days after securing their passage to the final in London.

This year's final may be three weeks away, but the mind games, second guessing and conspiracy theories are about to start.

Which 11 will Jurgen Klopp select for Saturday's match that, until a few days ago, was a dead rubber? Will Mario Goetze be "rested" against the team he will play for next season? Will Bayern's stars be given a day off, having wrapped up the Bundesliga title two weeks ago?

And what could we really read into the result?

Dortmund, in particular, are in a bit of bind, and Klopp will need to think this through carefully.

Saturday's match may border on the meaningless, but a thrashing - the only type of defeats that Bayern seem to hand out these days - no doubt will dent confidence and hand the Bavarians a psychological edge ahead of the final.

Confidence, as ever, will not be an issue for Bayern.

If there was any doubts about their status as Europe's finest team, they swept them away on Wednesday night at the Camp Nou.

Increasingly there has been talk of Barcelona being "found out", of an inevitable obsoleteness of tiki-taka.

Those who claim such notions are missing the point and in many ways simply wrong.

Barca's great secret for success was never a secret at all. The team had just perfected a style that few teams had the capabilities to counteract.

Their current malaise does not suddenly render the past five years irrelevant, or their style outdated.

Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan in 2010 and Chelsea last year are often held up as examples of how to defeat Barca, but in truth neither team was the equal of Pep Guardiola's sides.

To quote the Special One, both had "parked the bus".

Systems are all well and good, but meaningless without the players to carry them out. It needed another truly great team, not merely a tactical innovation, to eclipse Barcelona.

And that team is Bayern.

In every aspect, and every area of the pitch,the Bavarians trumped Tito Vilanova's fading team on Wednesday. The stunned Catalans had rarely seen their team attacked, and eventually humiliated, in the way that Jupp Heynckes's brilliantly dynamic team did.

Barca simply had no answer to their organisation, aggression and phenomenal speed.

Watching Barcelona's demise that night was painful for many of us who have marvelled at their football in recent years.

This was a team in decline, and it was brutally exposed by Bayern.

Indeed, it was difficult to see which Barca players would walk into Bayern's first 11.

Iniesta, perhaps?

And, obviously, you know who.

Beyond that, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller, Franck Ribery and the rest seem to operate on different level than their opponents.

That stellar list will next season be boosted by Dortmund's Goetze and it seems increasingly likely teammate Robert Lewandowski, as well.

Goetze in particular will surely have conflicting emotions when he faces his future teammates and soon-to-be-former fans at Wembley.

How Klopp handles him in the coming weeks is one of the more intriguing subplots of the run-up to the final.

Regardless, the potential loss of their two best players to their rivals would seem to indicate that Dortmund's brief dominance of the German game is, sadly for many, coming to an end.

Saturday's match gives Bayern fans the chance to gloat about winning the Bundesliga following two consecutive titles for Dortmund.

The notoriously demanding Bavarians will feel natural order has been reinstated.

They are the best.

But Dortmund still have one chance, one glorious shot at giving FC Bayern a bloody nose and being crowned champions of Europe.

For everyone's favourite new underdogs, this will be easier said than done.

Just ask Valencia.

 

akhaled@thenational.ae

 

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE