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It’s the big one: we’ve all been pretty excited about the Bundesliga’s return, even without fans, but so far it’s all been building up to Der Klassiker: Borussia Dortmund v Bayern Munich, on Tuesday.
The two giants of German football go into the game with the defending champions holding a four-point lead at the top of the table, so any win for Bayern would put them seven ahead with six games of the season remaining. Even with the uncertainty and the variations that come with this strange, behind closed doors football, surely that would be too much for anyone to overhaul.
“We’ve all been looking forward to this game since the restart,” said Rafa Honigstein on the Totally Football Show this week. “Even before that: at the winter break Axel Witsel was talking about it, that Bayern going to Dortmund could be the decider. It’s an enormous game, a fantastic occasion, especially with not much football being on elsewhere.
“It is more of a chance for Bayern than Dortmund. Dortmund have to at least get a draw, whereas Bayern are in a much more comfortable position.”
But could a trend that we’ve seen in these opening two match days have an impact on the match, and therefore the title race? The game will be held at the Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund’s intimidating home which has certainly proved advantageous to them before. They’re unbeaten there this season and only lost once at home last term, and Dortmund won this fixture last season in a 3-2 thriller.
Yet in the 18 games played since the restart, home advantage has not been a factor at all. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Michael Cox noted: “It’s fair to say the lack of real [as opposed to the cardboard cutouts put in place by Borussia Monchengladbach] fans has had an impact. There have been 17 games so far*, of which ten have been away wins which is 59%. The usual rate is around 25-26% obviously this is a small sample size, but it looks like home advantage is not even just being cancelled out for now, because away sides are doing so well. As time goes on, maybe it will be around 50:50.”
There have been just three home wins: Bayern against Eintracht Frankfurt, Dortmund against Schalke and Hertha in the Berlin derby versus Union.
So if Dortmund’s home advantage is taken away, you could argue that if they weren’t already, Bayern are runaway favourites to not only win this game but take an intimidating lead in the Bundesliga title race.
Might Dortmund be encouraged a little more by the fact that Bayern, while beating Eintracht Frankfurt 5-2 at the weekend, did concede twice to a side that have lost their last five Bundesliga games?
“I think they’ll take a little bit of heart from that,” said Rafa Honigstein, “but Dortmund’s game is not going to be based on set-pieces. Dortmund’s game will be best in transition, as we saw when they beat Bayern 4-2 last season and played very, very well. I think the idea that Bayern will suddenly be vulnerable from corners and that’s an area that [Dortmund] will look at is not really realistic.
“Much more likely is that Dortmund will find a way to lure Bayern forwards, try to isolate them and try to create these overloads in wide positions. I think they’ll take more encouragement from the fact that Jadon Sancho seems to be fit, hopefully fit enough to play, which I think will really make a difference. Especially if Bayern don’t have their best defence on the pitch: Jerome Boateng picked up a bit of a knock in the game against Frankfurt and might not make it.”
Probably the key battle, and the one we’ll all be tuning in to watch, will be between Jadon Sancho and Alphonso Davies, assuming the Englishman starts.
Rafa said: “It’s going to be amazing. The pace of both players is fantastic, the technique as well. Sancho won’t be able to do it by himself, because one v one, you’re always likely to be at an advantage as a defender. He needs players moving off him, he needs that bit of ingenuity for example when Julien Brandt moves out to the right, Thorgan Hazard might be a factor if he starts on the left, Gio Reyna might be given a chance.
“Dortmund have, in that final third, a lot of creativity and a lot of solutions, and they will try to get in the spaces behind Joshua Kimmich and the back four. Kimmich and Thiago Alcantara (if he recovers from injury) will have a lot of work to do to make sure Dortmund don’t play through them, especially when the turnover breaks quickly. That’s going to be the decisive factor in the game.”
* The podcast was recorded before the conclusion of Koln’s 2-2 draw with Fortuna Dusseldorf, which only dropped the away wins percentage down to 55%.
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