Bayern Munich’s 3-1 Champions League victory over Arsenal in February prompted predictions from yours truly on this very website that the Germans would end up as Kings of Europe this season.
With Barcelona (and Lionel Messi) continuing to wow, it could have been perceived as quite a bold forecast at the time. Yet, I was so struck by the way Jupp Heynckes had constructed his side and the steely-nosed beauty of this single performance left me in no doubt they were better than the Catalans.
A blissful concoction of energy, endeavour, teamwork, cohesiveness, talent and tenacity, I knew in my bones that Heynckes’ near-perfect team would beat Barcelona in the semi-finals. Not by seven goals to nil though, I must confess.
Dante is an immense presence in the heart of their back four, while two of the world’s best full-backs Philip Lahm and David Alaba occupy the flanks. The midfield pairing of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez has everything, and ahead of them any combination of Thomas Muller, Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Toni Kroos, Mario Mandzukic and Mario Gomez would frighten anyone. You get the drift; I’m a huge fan.
Yet, as Bayern Munich’s latest moment of Champions League destiny approaches at Wembley Stadium on Saturday evening, I’m instead drawn towards a Borussia Dortmund triumph. Principally, this is because I like their mind set better ahead of this match.
In his final match in charge, the pressure on Heynckes and his players to end the campaign with victory beneath the arch is elephantine.
His side strolled to the Bundesliga title by 25 points. Yes, 25 points. They won 29 of 34 matches, losing once, and ending the campaign with an absurd +80 goal difference. The prospect of losing to their nearest (in the loosest sense) domestic rivals Dortmund is unpalatable.
Throw in the bleak outlook of a third Champions League final defeat in four years, and you’ve got stress overload. The prospect of such an epic fail could, I predict, lead to one or two sleepless nights in the team hotel.
And then there’s Dortmund themselves. Stung by losing their grip on the title by such a humiliating margin, enraged by the Bavarian bullies’ eagerness to announce their capture of Mario Goetze on the night of their own semi-final against Real Madrid, and flummoxed at the nerve of their continued pursuit of Robert Lewandowski too - Die Schwarzgelben (The Black Yellows) really do despise their opponents. Can you imagine how badly they’d like to inflict embarrassment on Bayern?
Bayern may have the confidence of being champions, but as clear underdogs to lift the trophy that heavy weight of expectation isn’t crushing Dortmund ahead of kick-off. Instead, the potential to inflict sweet, sweet revenge is lifting their mood.
On the pitch they do possess more weaknesses than the four-time European champions. Goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller isn’t world class, the Mats Hummels-Neven Subotic centre-back partnership has temperamental flaws, and in midfield Sven Bender is a safe pair of hands, but not hugely influential at the very highest level. They’ll also miss the class of the injured Goetze as an attacking presence too.
However, Dortmund has the stronger forward line. Robert Lewandowski is class personified, and given half a chance he will score. Compared with his counterpart Mandzukic, he’s far more lethal.
Goetze’s absence will also place more emphasis on the dribbling ability, pace and positivity of Marco Reus. Often handcuffed to the left flank, he could now pop up anywhere in the wide open Wembley spaces, and that means Martinez will need eyes in the back of his head. All-action midfield general Ilkay Gundogan is also capable of dominating the less mobile Bastian Schweinsteiger in the engine room.
Judged on paper, Jurgen Klopp’s side aren’t as good as Bayern Munich, but I know they’re talented enough to produce a famous shock.
With less pressure, more youthful exuberance and an insatiable hunger to put one over their opponents, and a magnificent young coach that’s sure to put his players at ease, I can see a huge upset occurring.
Let’s not forget, Bayern Munich have a history of choking on the biggest stage of all. No matter how brilliant you are; if your mind keeps reminding you of that - you’re in trouble.
They aren’t the best team in Europe, but in this match, on this occasion, I can see a Borussia Dortmund winning the Champions League. I’m backing them for a shock 2-1 victory.
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