With injury ruling Mario Götze out of Borussia Dortmund’s biggest game in 16 years, it’s easy to assume he takes his side’s hopes with him.
Götze's rise to prominence under Jürgen Klopp was noted by Pep Guardiola, who swiftly made him his first signing at the Allianz Arena – but the €37million man isn’t irreplaceable. Indeed, Dortmund thrashed Bayern 5-2 in the final of the DFB-Pokal just over a year ago, without the young playmaker.
A lot has changed since then, not least the departure of Shinji Kagawa and the return of Nuri Sahin. But when Dortmund have been without Götze, Kloppo turns to one man - Ilkay Gundogan.
Gundogan has spent his two years at Dortmund occupying the ‘Xavi role’, sitting back and influencing the game from a deep-lying midfield position. But he is likely to be promoted to a more advanced role at Wembley and will shoulder the responsibility of creating chances for Robert Lewandowski.
In a game in which Bayern are likely to dominate possession and try to exert their man-for-man superiority over the side they beat to the Bundesliga title by 25 points, Dortmund may benefit from a more defensive outlook. While this means Sahin will have his work cut out against the roaming Thomas Muller, Gundogan will push up to face Javi Martinez. And this is a personal battle Gundogan is well-equipped to win.
Klopp has shown his tactical nous throughout his reign at Signal Iduna Park, and the coach will ensure Gundogan’s versatility is maximised by instructing Sahin and Sven Bender to shift the ball to the 22-year-old as quickly as possible. While this means we could be in for a night of unremitting Bayern pressure, it could make for some snappy counter-attacks orchestrated by Gundogan.
His ball-retention and positional discipline have made Gundogan Dortmund’s key man since Kagawa departed for Manchester United. He boasts the highest pass completion rate of any Dortmund player in the Bundesliga this season. These are the qualities that have reportedly made him a target for Barcelona.
Bayern remain strong favourites on Saturday, and for good reason; it would be naïve to ignore their 7-0 aggregate demolition of a still great Barcelona side only last month. But Bayern have a history of making life difficult for themselves on the big stage. And, with Gundogan inspiring further up the pitch, the final Klassiker of the season may not be the walkover so many are predicting.
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