Bayern back in business as Dortmund play catch-up

Pre-season is an interminable old business. The endless transfer tattle and the half-paced friendlies between three-quarter-fit players quickly grates on you. All of this will, however, come to an abrupt halt when Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich meet to contest the German Super Cup on Saturday night.

As with any titanic rivalry, there is no such thing as a meaningless match. Let us briefly cast our minds back to May 4th, when the pair met at Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park, where the Super Cup final will also unfold. It was an ostensibly meaningless game, with Bayern having already clinched the title and both sides recuperating from their efforts in reaching the Champions League final a few days before.

Even if the starting line-ups were shuffled and some star names rested, the earth shook. Tempers were raised, cards were brandished – including a red for Rafinha after his ugly swipe at Jakub Blaszczykowski – and Dortmund’s Jürgen Klopp squared up to Bayern sporting director Matthias Sammer on the touchline. “Whoever thought this would be a friendly doesn’t know Borussia, and they don’t know Bayern Munich either,” as Dortmund’s chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke said.

Two successful cultures, and accordingly considerable egos, means there will be no gentle bedding in. We were denied what was expected to be the first shot across the bows in last weekend’s Telekom Cup, the four-team tournament consisting of two hour-long games in two days for each team. Dortmund failed to reach the final after goalkeeper/captain Roman Weidenfeller’s brainstorm gifted hosts Borussia Mönchengladbach a last-gasp penalty to defeat Klopp’s men.

There were no such hiccups for Pep Guardiola’s lot, who steamrolled Hamburg in the following game before making short work of Gladbach in the final. If you wondered what Guardiola could possibly add to the all-conquering Bavarians, here was the answer – versatility. The experiment of using Franck Ribéry in a more central role – as the boss had mooted in previous media encounters – in the final against Gladbach worked pretty well, with the Frenchman scoring a sumptuous volley to get the party started and laying on a couple more.

The weekend’s festivities also confirmed that Thiago Alcantara is already justifying his billing by Pep Guardiola as “the only player I want” (and the player that Manchester United should have wanted if indeed David Moyes’ claim that they didn’t is true). Spain’s victorious under-21 captain started both matches at the fulcrum of the Bayern midfield, and looked as if he’d been there for years. Thiago even bagged a goal against Gladbach, deftly chesting in Jerome Boateng’s cross. 

You read that last sentence correctly, by the way. A nominally-defensive midfielder applied a sublime finish to a delicious cross from a centre-back. This is where Bayern are at right now: full of confidence and free flow, even without new boy Mario Götze and the frightening midfield pair of Javi Martínez and Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Dortmund showed signs of heading towards the same sort of headspace, passing with fluency in both matches despite missing their own top attacking recruits. Erstwhile Liverpool target Henrikh Mkhitaryan has an ankle injury, though Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be over the stomach bug that saw him miss the Telekom Cup by this Saturday.

Their spark is still thriving, as evidenced by young Jonas Hofmann’s smartly-taken winner against Hamburg on the second day at Gladbach. Saturday will be our first clue to whether they will be able to keep pace with the Bayern juggernaut, however, and keep alive one of modern European football’s most beguiling rivalries.

Bet on Bayern vs Dortmund in the German Super Cup.

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