Can Dortmund spoil Bayern's season?

Posted by Miguel Delaney

Sebastian Kehl had the perfect response. In truth, he needed to provide it. The Borussia Dortmund midfielder had just been forced to face the facts of what may yet be a perfect season for Bayern Munich.

When it's all laid out, you get a proper sense of just how much is going against Jurgen Klopp's squad at Wembley. Not only have Dortmund failed to beat Bayern in their past four games, they're now facing a side that may be on the verge of the best campaign ever produced by any club.

Quite simply, European football has never seen anything like what's been happening at Allianz Arena this season, not even from Pep Guardiola's Barcelona.

Consider the course of the campaign. First of all, Bayern have broken virtually every record known to the Bundesliga, as well as most other high-profile divisions, from points per game to goals conceded. Incredibly, it was matched by the trampling of Barcelona in the Champions League, as Bayern offered up a performance to define an era. And Bayern are in the German DFB Pokal on June 1 against Stuttgart.

It isn't just Bayern's season that has been leading up to this game. The German side have lost in the Champions League final twice recently, in 2010 and 2012, yet now stand on the precipice once again to claim the trophy they desperately desire most. A first treble for the team would at last reflect Bayern's singular domination of German football's past five decades.

With a single sentence, though, Kehl flipped all of that on its head: "They will be quite nervous about what could happen in London -- their season will be ruined if they do not win the Champions League final."

That is undeniable. A perfect season would become the most punishing one possible. It would be a defeat worse than even the ones suffered by Bayern at the hands of Manchester United in 1999 and Chelsea in 2012. To get so close to the ultimate victory, then fall to your closest rivals ... it doesn't get much worse. It also would be something of a new situation for Bayern, given how they've so thoroughly left Dortmund for dead in domestic competitions.

Klopp described the dynamic between the two clubs this week. "It's like James Bond," the Dortmund manager said, smiling. "Except, they are the other guy."

The implication is clear. The club of Franz Beckenbauer and Uli Hoeness are the supervillains bent on world domination. When this was put to Bayern on Thursday, they (for once) chose not to respond. Amid all of the barbs of the past few weeks, it is probably the one they're most used to.

Even when the Bavarian club first started to forge their profile in the late '60s, shortly after West German football finally became professional, they were immediately cast as the oppressive opposite to Borussia Moenchengladbach's uplifting young side. The latter were seen to represent radicalism, vigour and football for football's sake; Bayern stood for control, conservatism and winning for winning's sake.

It sounds so familiar.

The irony, at that point, was that many of those perceptions of Bayern weren't actually true. It was only after Gladbach began to fade, and a former player cabal headed by Hoeness took over in Munich, that the monopoly began. Bayern were actually badly in debt before then, with the 1975 European Cup final seen as a game to save not just their season after Gladbach's capture of the league but also the club's future. That would change. As would Bayern.

One of Hoeness's first acts as general manager was to visit the San Francisco 49ers and monitor their marketing operation. It was the kind of forward thinking that completely conditioned the future of German football, with Bayern gradually proving the only consistent winning presence in the league.

Since then, virtually every challenger has endured the same pattern as Gladbach: a fresh idea or cycle, a few years of success, before Bayern eventually picked off the best of their players and persevered on their own. For all of the superficial elements of individual duels, there's never really been the chance for a genuinely deep rivalry to develop in the Bundesliga.

Worst of all, most of them ended without a grand showdown. Although both Bayern and Gladbach were probably the finest teams of the mid-1970s, they never met in the European Cup. Even the Champions League last-eight clash between Bayern and newly minted Dortmund in 1997-98 was ultimately lessened by the fact that the latter lost the semifinal to Real Madrid.

That is what makes the 2013 final so distinct. Just as Bayern seemed set to restore the traditional order of German football with the signing of Dortmund's Mario Goetze -- the player, ruled out of Saturday's final due to a hamstring injury, is set to join Bayern next season -- Klopp's side at least have the opportunity to fully redress the balance.

A Dortmund victory would be the type of blow Munich have simply never experienced from a domestic opponent. Given the significance of the Champions League, a loss to Dortmund would also take this rivalry to a level that German football has not seen before.

What's more, although Bayern have persisted with their approach of picking off the latest pretenders' best assets, there is more of a sense Dortmund are building an approach for long-term success.

It is less than a year, after all, since Marco Reus made the opposite decision to Goetze's and picked the Westfalenstadion over the Allianz precisely because of Klopp's approach to youth football.

"For me, this is the most interesting football project in the world," the Dortmund boss said. There's also the manner he spins the departures of Goetze, and Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United. "It's better if they stay, but I'm not sure we'd be stronger. You need change to make the next step in the team's development," he said.

That is the other distinctive element of this growing rivalry: Dortmund's resolve to adapt and rise to the challenge. They are fired up. The recent 1-1 draw in the Bundesliga saw many more flashpoints than usual. The past few weeks have seen an escalation in heated public comments. In the most frequently repeated quote, Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke spoke of how there had been "a few irritations" and that they would not "pretend that everything is peace."

Hoeness himself has made references to the "status quo" being restored. Klopp followed by saying the Bavarians had been forced to adopt Dortmund's pressing game in order to compete.

That, however, is the very point of these enduring rivalries. From Real Madrid and Barcelona to Milan and Internazionale, they are arms races that necessarily involve escalated responses at every turn.

We haven't seen that in the Bundesliga in the long term because when Bayern played a hand, opposition sides have lacked either the resources or the imagination to raise them. Dortmund seem different. They have suggested they are up for the fight.

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