Today’s meeting at the Allianz Arena is for high stakes, with Pep Guardiola aiming to match Jupp Heynckes’ groundbreaking treble win of 2013, and die Schwarzgelben attempting to salvage something from a chastening season.
Yet, despite there being a few reasons to focus on the moment, it is almost impossible to avoid a pang of sadness at a great modern European rivalry which is coming to an end.
This is the end of an era, and there is no mistaking that. Starting with Dortmund’s 3-1 win in Munich in February 2011 that cleared BVB’s route to that season’s title, this was a matchup that made the world stop what it was doing and hand over its undivided attention.
Klopp and Dortmund found a way of really getting under Bayern’s skin. Other teams win the Bundesliga for a year, of course—a surge of form coupled with problems for Bayern is a popular formula, which did the trick for Stuttgart in 2007 and Wolfsburg in 2009.
Dortmund did something a little different, though. They had the cheek to win the title from Bayern in 2011 and then retain it in 2012. It was the first time a team other that Bayern had won successive Bundesligatitles since Ottmar Hitzfeld’s BVB sides of 1995 and 1996.
The last non-Bayern candidate before Dortmund to lift two straight championships was Hamburg, coached by the legendary Ernst Happel, in 1982 and 1983.
Any genuinely compelling rivalry between two such doughty competitors is shot through with real intensity, which is exactly what made Dortmund and Bayern such a great watch when they came up against one another.
The flashpoints spring readily to mind. Neven Subotic getting up inArjen Robben’s grill (Martin Keown versus Ruud van Nistelrooy style) after the latter’s missed penalty at Signal Iduna Park in April 2012, and the opprobrium for Mario Gotze as he returned to the same venue in November 2013 after joining Bayern, are just two.
Perhaps one of the best examples of exactly how deep this clash was felt came a few weeks before the 2013 Champions League final, when they met in what amounted to a dead rubber of a Bundesliga game.
If it didn’t matter for points or prizes, it meant something for pride.Rafinha’s confrontation with Klopp as he left the field following his red card underlined Manuel Neuer’s statement that “a game against Dortmund is never a friendly,” as reported by The Guardian.
The two clubs’ respective paths, and diverging fortunes, since then have been widely documented. Klopp’s imminent departure, and Dortmund’s recurring faults at both ends of the pitch, means that his replacement Thomas Tuchel will oversee at least a partial rebuild of the squad.
Names closely bound in recent Dortmund-Bayern history, such as MatsHummels, may not be there for the next episode. Asking for a title challenge next season already seems like just a bit too much.
The concept of Der Klassiker will move on—it has always been a fairly arbitrary term, referring to Bayern‘s face-offs with BorussiaMonchengladbach and Hamburg in the past, depending on status and stakes at the time.
Having secured a top-four spot and given extended deals to the likes ofGranit Xhaka and Patrick Herrmann, Gladbach seem in as good a position as any to slip into the role of chief irritant to Bayern.
For a while, Dortmund were so much more than that. Arguably, their excellence forced Bayern to make the step from behemoth to virtually unbeatable. It is a double act that will be missed as it prepares to be shelved—for now, at least.