Der Krankenhaus-Klassiker?

Posted by Susie Schaaf

The international break is finally over, but as is the norm, not without a price. Although it was lovely to see Mario Mandzukic's Croatia and Franck Ribery's France qualify for Brazil next summer -- indeed, the only Bayern Munich internationals not going are Peru's Claudio Pizarro and Austria's David Alaba -- I can generally be found fretting during these matches, repeating the litany: "Don't get hurt."

While fluid in the joints won't keep Arjen Robben off the pitch, and Jerome Boateng's heel knock was just slight, Javi Martinez might have been abducted by aliens as there is still no news on his knee injury or availability for Saturday's crunch match at Signal Iduna Park. I say "crunch" because that's exactly what happened to Ribery's... er, rib. The European footballer of the year will sit this one out, having sustained a fractured tenth rib in France's qualification comeback victory over the Ukraine.

-Cox: Kroos has earned right to lead Bayern
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A blow to Bayern Munich, certainly, but Borussia Dortmund has it much worse. Both Marcel Schmelzer (torn calf muscle) and Mats Hummels (ligament damage) were removed from Germany's ho-hum victory over England at Wembley, and all of the sudden Juergen Klopp -- already struggling mightily with a thin squad -- has to piece together a back four against the Bundesliga leaders. Free-agent centre-back Manuel Friedrich was signed by BVB until season's end as a stop-gap measure, and will likely start on Saturday.

Bastian Schweinsteiger, Neven Subotic, Xherdan Shaqiri, Ilkay Gundogan, Ribery, the aforementioned duo of Schmelzer and Hummels -- Key players for both sides will be missing in this der Klassiker. Perhaps we might re-name it as das Krankenhaus (German for hospital)?

While Klopp is busy growing "80 percent of his grey hairs this week" with his defensive selection woes, Pep Guardiola also has tough decisions to make. Rafinha was shown red the last time these German giants met in the Bundesliga. But with Schweinsteiger out, and Martinez a maybe -- at best -- it seems that the diminutive Brazilian will start at right-back so captain Philipp Lahm can play single pivot.

Shaqiri would be the natural replacement for the injured Ribery, but since he is also out, Mario Goetze is likely to get a start against his beloved former side. Borussia Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc has pleaded with BVB support ahead of the match not to whistle at their former midfielder: "I urge our fans to be fair and decent towards Mario. He showed strong performances in the BVB shirt for 12 years."

"I was already booed in Dortmund," Thomas Mueller said ahead of the match, commenting on Goetze's likely reception at Westfalenstadion. And Goetze told Sportbild: “I understand the fans who would rather see me in the Dortmund shirt. For me, it is just confirmation of what I achieved with the club. We have won titles together and even reached the Champions League final. When I now come back, I have to accept that not every reaction in the stadium will be positive, but that’s part of football."

Goetze will likely be joined in attacking midfield by Mueller, Robben and Toni Kroos.

Before last May's Champions League fina, Klopp likened Bayern Munich to a Chinese corporation that steals ideas. And while, I suppose, there is some truth to that, last season Jupp Heynckes took Dortmund's gegenpressing to a new level; perfecting BVB's relentless press to beat them at their own game. This season Guardiola is expanding on Heynckes' revolution with controlled, possession-based football; breaking hearts and legs of opponents along the way.

Bayern hasn't beaten Dortmund in the Bundesliga since 2010, although, when it really mattered last season, the Bavarian side managed to turn over their black-and-yellow foes. And while I would enjoy seeing both teams at full strength on Saturday, perhaps this match is more a highlight for the coaches. Who really has the tactical nous?

Should Bayern succeed, they will open up a seven-point lead at the top of the table. Not insurmountable to topple, but probably unlikely. And with Dortmund's upcoming Champions League match against Napoli a must-win, it seems Klopp may have some choices to make. Take the run at Bayern for the Bundesliga? Or Champions League glory?

Whatever the answer may be, Saturday's showdown is certain to entertain. Passions are running high, everyone is ready. Der Krankenhaus-Klassiker on Saturday. The world will be watching.

*On a side note, I'd love to welcome Stefan Buczko to the team. Finally, a Dortmund blog! He and I, along with our respective podcast co-hosts, did a preview of this match. You can listen here.


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