If you look at the head-to-head record over the last three seasons, Borussia Dortmund should be heavy favourites to win at Wembley on Saturday. Jürgen Klopp’s side have only lost once - a narrow 1-0 defeat in the DFB Cup quarter-final this February - in seven competitive games against Bayern Munich. Dortmund won all four Bundesliga meetings in 2010/11 and 11/12, and the best the Bavarians could do in the league this season (when they broke almost every single record) were two 1-1 draws against the Black and Yellows.
But past results are not a reliable indicator for future performance, especially in this case. The opposite is actually true here: both sides agree that Dortmund’s brilliance in the previous campaigns has been an important factor in Bayern’s development into a European superpower. “I don’t think we would have made this much progress without them,” said Bastian Schweinsteiger back in September. “They have really spurred us on.”
It’s not just the urgent need to bounce back after two season in which Dortmund were seen as the best German team that has propelled Bayern to new heights. Jupp Heynckes has also successfully added Borussia’s high-energy “Gegenpressing” (pressing the opposition after conceding possession in their half) to the mix. “They are like the Chinese, they have copied us,” sneered Jürgen Klopp, but the result has been nothing short of spectacular: the Reds are a team of hugely gifted stars who play a selfless, collective game.
Furthermore the addition of elegant Brazilian defender Dante has helped them deal with Dortmund’s high pressing much better; he’s very good on the ball. And €40m enforcer Javier Martinez is exactly the kind of player they needed last year: good enough in possession to play football, even better when it comes to mopping up behind Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Add Bayern’s supreme confidence, defensive stability (18 goals conceded in the league, none against Juventus and Barcelona in the Champions League) and fantastic strength in depth to the mix and it becomes clear that this really should be a case of third time lucky after final defeats in 2010 (vs Inter) and 2012 (vs Chelsea).
Both their starting XI and tactical set-up will be as expected. Their game relies on the wide attacking players Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry to create openings, supported by full-backs Philipp Lahm and David Alaba. In the middle, Mario Mandzukic's main job is too hassle the centre-backs, while Thomas Müller helps out with the pressing and then makes the most of his licence to roam.
Most opponents have simply been unable to contend with that combined attacking force. Dortmund, however, have excelled in past meetings when it came to closing down the flanks, thanks to the super-human running of midfielders like Sven Bender, who have made sure that the full-backs were never isolated.
The loss of Mario Götze, Borussia’s no.10, will actually help Dortmund in a defensive sense. Kevin Großkreutz is a utility player with a great engine; he’ll unnerve Robben on Dortmund’s left flank. Marco Reus will play behind Robert Lewandowski instead of Götze. That, it in itself, is not a huge disadvantage either: Reus is the key player in Dortmund’s transition game, the first man to start counter-attacks and often the one who finds himself on the end of them too. Moving into the centre will free him from a portion of the defensive responsibilities.
Großkreutz will help solidify a Dortmund defence that hasn’t always been convincing this season: they have conceded a combined 53 goals in the Bundesliga and Europe this season, compared to Bayern’s 28. Götze’s absence will force Dortmund into a slightly more reactive game. They will press, but only near the half-way line. Thus the basic pattern of the match will be set: Bayern will probe away, wary of being caught on the break.
Both sides will be desperate not to concede first. The first goal is always important in finals, but the contrasting styles of the two teams could make the first goal the decisive one here. A lead for Dortmund will swing the match completely in their favour tactically - and that’s before we even get to Bayern's psychology.
Should the Reds score first, conversely, the game will open up and it’s quite likely that they would come away with a convincing win. In other words, it could well be a high-scoring final - but only if Bayern score first and relatively early.
3 or 4 goals at 2.4. It’s a smarter way to play the overs. 2-1 is perhaps the most realistic scoreline of all in this final, because it could happen either way. But Bayern scoring first could easily see the game end 3-1.
Thomas Müller to score at 2.7. These are excellent odds. Müller is unstoppable at the moment, and it’s hard not to see him get on the scoresheet at some stage.
Jürgen Klopp NOT to wear his baseball cap at 1.2. The Dortmund coach loves his “Pöhler” cap - “pöhlen” is Ruhr area slang for playing football. But part of the reason why he wore it so often was to cover his hair transplant after the winter break. Now that everything’s grown back, we can expect him to be “topless” at Wembley. Take this bet now.