Hans-Joachim Watzke was stony faced as he swept through the underbelly of Wembley on Tuesday night. The Borussia Dortmund chief executive would not answer any questions. Just a short time earlier, he had visited the Germany dressing room to have his worst fears concerned. His side would be playing against FC Bayern this Saturday with four defensive reserves.
With Neven Subotic already ruled out until the end of the season and Lukasz Piszczek still waiting to return, Dortmund could ill afford to lose one more defender to injury, let alone two. But two they did lose, with both Mats Hummels and Marcel Schmelzer taking knocks against England which rule them out for this Saturday’s crunch clash. Hummels will not return until Christmas.
For Watzke, it was the fulfilment of his own grim prophecy. Prior to the international break, he had delivered a thinly veiled warning to Joachim Löw that Bayern and BVB players should be treated equally in the games against Italy and England. That Löw sent Manuel Neuer and Phillipp Lahm home early, and played five Dortmund players against England, has only added fuel to a fire that is growing increasingly tiresome.
Watzke and his club often seem unable to make up their mind about Löw’s apparent malevolence. In recent months, the Germany manager’s crime has been to not pick enough Dortmund players, while now he has sinned by picking too many. They are no exception – theirs is the textbook hypocrisy exercised by all major clubs towards national teams these days. But on this occasion, Watzke’s fears were coincidentally justified.
Without Piszczek, Hummels, Subotic or Schmelzer, BVB have none of their four first choice back four available to them for the most important game of the season. Not only that, but if BVB’s squad has a major weakness, it is depth in defence. The full back positions are likely to be filled by two midfielders in Jakub Blaszczykowski and Kevin Großkreutz, while in central defence, BVB have enlisted the services of veteran free agent Manuel Friedrich to play alongside Sokratis. Jürgen Klopp’s only other options would be to play youngsters, Erik Durm and Koray Günter – a pair who have nine first team appearances between them in the last two years.
The only opium that Dortmund have been able to enjoy is that Franck Ribéry will also miss out, taking the most creative spark out of the Bayern attack. But Dortmund’s makeshift defence will still have to face up to an onslaught from Mandžukić, Kroos, Müller, and their two hero-turned-demons Arjen Robben and Mario Götze.
Despite the injury issues, there is a sense leading up to this game that there will be no excuses. There is far too much at stake for that, for this is no contest for bragging rights like it was in Dortmund’s 4-2 victory in the German Supercup in August. If Bayern beat Dortmund in the league for the first time in six attempts, they will secure themselves a seven point lead at the top of the Bundesliga. If BVB win, they will not only shorten the gap to one point, but will also end Bayern’s 37 game unbeaten streak, reasserting their status as the only team definitively on Bayern’s level.
It is for that reason that Pep Guardiola stated today that he “hates excuses”, and that Dortmund have held themselves back in any criticism of Löw they might have entertained following the Wembley debacle.
Director of Sport Michael Zorc admitted this week that “our situation has, in a relatively short space of time, got worse. But we showed in August that we can beat Bayern, and we will never hold up the white flag.” When the subject of Löw was broached, he elegantly rebuffed the invite to indulge in finger pointing. “Joachim Löw did not foul those players”.
No indeed. For Joachim Löw was not on the field when Hummels and Schmelzer picked up their injuries to heel and calf respectively. Should Bayern overrun Dortmund’s defence tomorrow and secure a valuable victory, then the conspiracy theorists may blame England, the Wembley groundsman.
Even that is unlikely, however. However weakened their defence, this Dortmund side knows how to beat Bayern, and knows how important such a result is this time around. With their Champions League campaign also already teetering dangerously near to the brink of a premature end, it is imperative for BVB to stay in the title race. This is a side whose success is built on well timed bursts of energy and commitment, and with another one of those, they can make Saturday’s game – and the title race itself – into a true Klassiker.