It is a difference in mood that could yet make a difference in the match. While Bayern Munich’s Hansi Flick was keen to play down the significance of Tuesday’s game in that way repeat champions with four-point leads can afford to do, the Borussia Dortmund squad were only getting fired up. Even Erling Braut Haaland had a few dressing-room words about how ready they are.
They know this is a big chance.
It might well be the only chance. They know they have to take it.
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“Dortmund have to win,” Paul Lambert, who played for them between 1996 and 1997, tells The Independent. “That is apparent.”
Because, as welcome as it is that the first big title showdown of this new football era comes so soon after the resumption, there is the danger that it could kill an exciting title race just as quickly.
If Bayern win at Dortmund, it will be a seven-point lead in the Bundesliga with six games left.
That would be that, but the worst part is Bayern usually do exactly that and more.
They don’t just kill title rivals and title races. They terminate, with extreme prejudice.
Bayern have won the last three late-season showdowns against Dortmund by an aggregate score of 15-1.
In April 2017, it was 4-1. In March 2018, it was 6-0. In April 2019, it was 5-0.
Bayern, in the words of one figure familiar with both clubs, can be nasty in putting Dortmund in their place. They really put the hammer down.
“They have that arrogance that all the great clubs have,” Lambert says.
That recent history is maybe the factor that most weighs on this fixture now.
Before Dortmund can even take the giant stride of actually winning such a showdown, they have to stand up strong, and not fold.
There is admittedly the optimism that comes from the fact they’re currently running – and playing – at such pace. This itself comes from the vibrancy of youth.
That can be a disadvantage, however, as much as an advantage.
The recent series that has engaged the world, ‘The Last Dance’, offered a classic sporting case study in how the Chicago Bulls needed to mature as a team before they could beat the Detroit Pistons. This is a journey that tends to be universally necessary to win major trophies, especially in the face of dominant rival, but hasn’t usually been allowed at Dortmund. They haven’t been allowed to mature.
They keep having their best players taken off them, usually by Bayern. This notorious trend has naturally informed a wider inferiority complex, that has undeniably influenced these games.
“It will always be a massive game just because of what has happened in the past,” Lambert says. “That rivalry stretches pretty far.”
The way Jurgen Klopp’s great team was picked apart still hurts. The way that started with the manner of Mario Gotze’s departure – leaked before a Champions League semi-final – still rankles.
Dortmund, for their part, have sought to confront this head on. They now refuse to sell to Bayern.
They have similarly embraced their status as a club for young players, which is one major reason they persuaded Haaland and Jadon Sancho to join them in the first place.
That can still have subconscious effect. There’s still a difference in expectation. At Dortmund, Haaland and Sancho are merely portrayed as future stars for bigger teams. At Bayern, there’s none of that. They are the biggest team. They are expected to play and win right now. Dortmund are expected to play and eventually move. There’s always a tomorrow you don’t necessarily have to sharpen yourself for.
This can further influence such games, especially as regards the intensity it takes to cross the line.
We know what Bayern can do, which is that they just go and do it. We’re still waiting to see what Dortmund can do.
There are also more specific concerns about Lucien Favre in this regard. The Dortmund coach, in the familiar words of those who’ve worked at the top, “isn’t a winner”. He is portrayed as almost too thoughtful. Favre is said to have been especially affected by defeats like last season’s 5-0. He was very quiet with the players afterwards, even for him. He has a tendency to overthink under pressure, rather than deal with it.
Other familiar criticisms continue. He’s too nice. His Dortmund team are not ruthless enough, especially in tight games.
This is one reason the club were very close to getting rid of him.
In the end, Dortmund went in a different direction. They sought to bring in greater solidity, through one of the many that departed for Bayern: Mats Hummels. He has been an experienced voice in the dressing room that had been missing, although they had still been missing some cover at the back. For most of this season, they’ve not been that solid, and still had problems without the ball.
That is something Favre has been thinking about during lockdown, and there has been minor evidence of improvement, even beyond the limited evidence of a mere two matches back. Those two clean sheets were actually part of a run of five in the last six.
Bayern meanwhile looked a bit vulnerable against Eintracht Frankfurt. You can make your own joke about social distancing, but they offered up the kind of space that Haaland would revel in. The Norwegian isn’t a personality to be cowed by reputation, or recent history. He just goes and does.
“His movement is so good,” Lambert says. “The way he plays, he will certainly cause them problems.
“I think Dortmund will go for them. I think they’ll come out the traps.
“Haaland’s a big lad and can do some damage but Bayern have that belief in them. They’ve got a great team who do what great players do.”
Bayern, after all, are precisely the kind of side that just go and brutally disabuse you of any ideas you have about changes in the game. They’ve done it so often to Dortmund. They’ve done it so much over the last few months. Flick has now presided over 12 wins and a draw from the last 13, having found his groove since taking over from Niko Kovac after a disastrous start to the season.
Their movement is now going to be a massive test for this new Dortmund solidity.
There’s also the unknown of how empty stands affect full-on showdowns like this, especially when that atmosphere is so important to Dortmund.
“The only thing missing is the intensity from the crowd,” Lambert explains. “When you play in front of that crowd, that gives you another yard, the size of it and the volume of it. The crowd wanted you to run and run and run.”
The players, at least, are still ready to do that. Bayern, of course, are radiating a different mood.
“They can afford to lose,” Lambert explains, which were words unintentionally echoed by Flick.
“Regardless of the result,” the Bayern manager said, “nothing will be decided afterwards.”
That’s easy to say when you can go seven points clear, and this fixture has come so easily to you. Dortmund need to complicate that, and make this title race even more compelling.
BT Sport is the home of the Bundesliga, with Borussia Dortmund v Bayern Munich exclusively live on Tuesday. Tune in on BT Sport 1, from 5pm, for the Der Klassiker and top of the table clash.