The Champions League final is still over three weeks away, but football fans will be treated to a preview of the fixture on Saturday as Dortmund host Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga.
The two German powers have battled it out on the domestic front in recent years, with BVB rather comfortably winning the league in the previous two seasons before Die Roten clinched the title in record time in the current campaign. And soon, they will face off in contention for the title of Europe's best club team.
Saturday's match may have no effect on the outcome of the title, but it will certainly be a hotly contested match. Not only is it a good benchmark for the two sides to test themselves ahead of the final, it's a prestige class as the two aim for superiority in a bitter rivalry.
Bayern have lost four of their last five Bundesliga matches against Dortmund, drawing once, and will want to take advantage of Saturday's relatively low-stakes fixture as a chance to boost morale. BVB, meanwhile, have lost the off-pitch battle with Bayern, with Mario Gotze having already confirmed his summer transfer to the Munich side and Robert Lewandowski still on the Bavarians' radar.
The Ruhr side will want to show their star players that there still is much to play for in Dortmund, and that they can truly be European champions (or at least beat the European champions) in spite of their "small club" status.
The "Klassiker" between Bayern and Dortmund is not a clash of natural rivals, but one of powers separated by nearly 400 miles on the autobahn. Ironically, its name is a rather recently coined term, and BVB vs. FCB has drifted in and out of relevance over the years.
In the early days of the Bundesliga, there was no rivalry. By the 1970s, Bayern were the dominant force in German football alongside Gladbach, and the Bavarians retained their dominance through most of the 1980s. The tides turned, however, in the mid-1990s.
Three seasons after a second-placed finish, Dortmund won the 1994-95 Bundesliga title. They were the fifth team in as many years to top the table, but established themselves the following year as they made it back-to-back titles.
As BVB emerged as possible long-term challengers to Bayern's dominance, a rivalry grew between the clubs. Bayern's squad contained such greats as Lothar Matthaus, Jurgen Klinsmann and Oliver Kahn, while Dortmund had Matthias Sammer, Andreas Moller and Jurgen Kohler—with such great quality in their ranks, the two sides produced some spectacular head-to-head clashes.
Bayern reclaimed the Bundesliga title in 1997, with Dortmund finishing third behind Leverkusen. But that season BVB did something no German team had done since 1983, and Bayern hadn't since 1976: they were crowned European champions having beaten Juventus 3-1 in the Champions League final.
BVB's international success fueled the rivalry, and in 1998, the club edged Bayern in the Champions League quarterfinals, advancing with a 1-0 aggregate victory. Although the Ruhr side failed to finish in the top three of their domestic league that season, their performance was enough to convince Bayern to sign head coach Ottmar Hitzfeld.
The move of Hitzfeld from Dortmund to Bayern was monumental in establishing the clubs' rivalry, as it was the first significant instance of either club asserting itself against the other off the pitch. It tipped the balance in the Bundesliga, and Bayern won four of the next six Bundesliga titles under Hitzfeld's tenure.
Although they won the 2001-02 Bundesliga, Dortmund struggled for consistency in the Bundesliga, managing to finish in the top three just three times during that spell, and financial difficulties following a number of failed transfers saw them effectively fall off the map in the mid-2000s.
Bayern won back-to-back domestic doubles under Felix Magath in 2005 and 2006, made it three in four years in 2008, and four in six years in 2010. Dortmund were in dire straits for most of this time, and the rivalry was all but dead. Jurgen Klopp's arrival in 2008 changed BVB's fortunes dramatically, however, and although it took time for the rivalry to be rekindled. The club, which had narrowly avoided relegation in the previous year, finished sixth in the trainer's first season and fifth the following year.
Although improved under Klopp, Dortmund still lacked Bayern's star power and flew largely under the radar during his first two seasons at the club. The Bavarians drew their first match against Klopp's BVB and won the following three by more than one goal, including a 5-1 drubbing at the Signal-Iduna Park.
Everything changed again in the fall of 2010, however, as Mainz and Dortmund roared out of the gate in August and September. BVB beat Bayern 2-0, and soon thereafter claimed top spot in the league. They finished the first half of the campaign just shy of the points record for a first round, having drawn once and lost just twice, and bet the Munich giants at the Allianz Arena the following spring en route to a shocking Bundesliga title.
Dortmund repeated their success in 2011-12, beating Bayern twice on the domestic front as they earned a record 81 points on the season. They also battered the Bavarians 5-2 in the DFB-Pokal final, a result that demoralized their opponents just days before their Champions League final loss to Chelsea.
Having seen their control of German football slip over the previous two seasons, and having fallen at the final stage of the Champions League twice in three years, Bayern entered 2012-13 hungrier than ever. Net expenditures of approximately €70 million for the likes of Javi Martinez, Dante, Mario Mandzukic, Xherdan Shaqiri and more left Bayern with a tremendously deep squad. And they took the Bundesliga by storm.
On August 2, the Bavarians snapped a five-game losing streak against BVB, winning the DFB-Superpokal 2-1 at the Allianz Arena. Normally little more than a preseason friendly, the match was enormous for Bayern, who celebrated with all the vigor of a side that had won the Champions League. And for good reason, as it was the start of many good things to come.
Bayern have since had one of the most dominant overall seasons in club football in recent memory, breaking countless Bundesliga records while advancing to the finals of the Champions League and DFB-Pokal in emphatic manner. Although they were held to a 1-1 draw by BVB in December, the Bavarians beat their rivals 1-0 in the Pokal in February, making it two wins in three meetings.
Still not satisfied with their stellar squad or record-breaking performance, Bayern delivered a hammer blow to Dortmund in late April, confirming the signing of Mario Gotze after activating his exit clause—to boot, the deal was done before anyone from the FCB camp contacted the BVB board. And now, whether one believes the agent of Jupp Heynckes in saying a deal is all but reached or Bayern's official denial thereof, it appears that Bayern are aiming to make Robert Lewandowski their next signing from BVB.
Right now, Bayern and Dortmund's rivalry is more heated than ever before. Based on their actions in the transfer market, Bayern are quite clearly bothered by BVB's success over the last couple of seasons and are keen to avoid any contest in their superiority in the long term—regardless of whether it is established on the pitch or in the transfer market. Dortmund, meanwhile, will want to prove that the spirit of their club and players can overcome their rivals' wealth and history.
Even though Saturday's match is meaningless to the result of this season's domestic campaign, it is important to Bayern and Dortmund's rivalry. It could mark the first Bundesliga victory for the Munich giants over the Schwartzgelben in over three years, or it could end BVB's three-game winless streak—and extend their three-game home winning streak in all competitions—against their southern rivals. All that, and there is a ton of pride to be played for.
Rather than a meaningless clash, fans can look forward to two Champions League finals this May, the first of which will take place this Saturday.
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