A clash of German titans

Posted by Susie Schaaf

Christof Stache/AFP/Getty ImagesFranck Ribery and Bayern Munich are set once again to tussle with rivals Borussia Dortmund.

"We know we're one of the few clubs on the planet who can beat Bayern. For them, it's a perfect season, for us it's like a Champions League away game," Juergen Klopp said at Monday's pre-match press conference. "But if we are at 100 per cent, anything is possible. You can't beat FC Bayern by playing at 98 per cent."

Although Bayern Munich is running away with the Bundesliga title -- Borussia Dortmund a distant 17 points back in second place -- this cup match is certainly a clash of German titans. And despite Munich's record-breaking season, a win against Dortmund on Wednesday -- after nearly three years of failed attempts domestically -- would certainly see the Bavarian club as overwhelming favorites to capture the DFB Pokal title in Berlin come June.

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After the humiliating 5-2 defeat in that same final last year, coupled with Bayern practically handing the Bundesliga to Dortmund, the FCB brass dug into deep pockets; splashing the cash on the likes of Mario Mandzukic, Xherdan Shaqiri, Claudio Pizarro and Dante to revitalize the club which now sports arguably the deepest bench in Europe.

While one could question the validity of it being a "competitive match", in August's preseason DFL Supercup competition die Roten finally got the die Schwarzgelben bogey off their backs with a 2-1 win at the Allianz. A smothering first half performance by Munich saw Dortmund with only a half chance on goal, with the majority of the first 45 minutes being played in the final Dortmund third.

Just six minutes in, Mandzukic would open the scoring after Neven Subotic misjudged a Franck Ribery cross. Five minutes later, Thomas Mueller doubled the total finishing off Arjen Robben's shot after it bounced the post.

Dortmund came out to play ball the second half, however, and Robert Lewandowski would pull one back with a 75th minute 18-yard thumper. A flurry of action took place the last 15 minutes of the match, but Bayern would ultimately hold out for the win.

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Munich took that positive result into December when Dortmund came visiting the Allianz once again. A tense, tactical opening half saw no real scoring chances for either side, perhaps the most interesting event being Holger Badstuber stretchered off with his season-ending ACL tear.

The second half started a bit brighter as neither squad wanted a scoreless draw. Toni Kroos would sky a shot just after the restart and Mats Hummels forced Manuel Neuer in to a difficult save before Kroos eventually broke the deadlock, beating Hummels and Subotic, driving just past Roman Weidenfeller.

Mario Goetze leveled for Dortmund, but the real hero of the day would be Weidenfeller -- the 'keeper making three world class saves in the dying minutes of the match to prevent Bayern from claiming all three points.

So, what of Wednesday's showdown? Bayern's last two results against Dortmund have not been negative ones, and the current form of the two squads seems to weigh in the Red's favor.

"Bayern hasn't had any reason to worry in the last few weeks, and they can rotate players without losing quality," Klopp would say, referencing Bayern's 6-1 drubbing of Werder Bremen on the weekend.

While Jupp Heynckes will miss Ribery due to suspension and Rafinha to the flu, Klopp has a full squad available to him. Hummels, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Lukasz Piszczek all return from nagging injuries for the Pokal match which features intriguing battles all over the pitch.

German international Hummels has the care of league-leading scorer Mandzukic, while on the other end Dante -- who made a rare mistake on Saturday -- will be in charge of stopping possible future teammate Lewandowski. The Polish striker, who according to his agent has decided his future, is currently serving a Bundesliga suspension and will be fully rested and raring to go for this one.

Marshal-of-the-DFB midfield, Bastian Schweinsteiger faces Ilkay Guendogan, the young German Jogi Loew has used in his stead in international play, while on the wings Piszczek-- free of facing the suspended Ribery-- gets an energized Robben, and Marcel Schmelzer tries to keep up with Thomas Mueller. Remember, Schmelzer should have seen red bringing Mueller down in the box in the December match.

Now is the time for Bayern to nail that bogey coffin shut. Love or hate either Bayern or Dortmund, the "whole of Germany is looking forward to it," said captain Philipp Lahm. Not just the whole of Germany, as it turns out, with these two titans looking to advance in Champions League play, all of Europe will be watching, too. There's not a better time in the world to make an emphatic statement.

Auf geht's!

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