The phrase Julian Brandt used was “the 34th game”. It was a factual way of describing Borussia Dortmund’s heartbreak, the last-day meltdown against Mainz that meant Bayern Munich retain their familiar status as champions of Germany. Rather than Brandt or any of his Dortmund teammates, Jamal Musiala had the distinction of scoring the goal that won the Bundesliga, Bayern’s victory against Koln securing their 11th successive title.
And so Saturday’s Klassiker, Harry Kane’s first, having settled superbly since joining from Tottenham, comes with the familiar backdrop of Bayern as champions and Dortmund as challengers, albeit with the different landscape of Bayer Leverkusen topping the table. It could be seen as a quest for redemption or revenge or a chance to reorder German football. As is often the case, the burden of proof lies with Dortmund: to depose Bayern, they may first have to beat them. “We have played well in lots of games without managing to reward ourselves in games against Bayern,” said Brandt.
Their rewards have been scant. Bayern have won nine of the last 10 meetings: the other, at the Signal Iduna Park last season, finished in a 2-2 draw, and that required a last-minute Dortmund equaliser. The most recent meeting may, despite the drama in the final minutes of the season, have been the pivotal game of the campaign. It was Thomas Tuchel’s first in charge of Bayern, and perhaps the proximity of a Klassiker with Dortmund had prompted them to sack Julian Nagelsmann. The usually excellent Gregor Kobel’s horrible miskick brought him an own goal and Bayern an early advantage: they surged into a 4-0 lead, eventually winning 4-2.
Edin Terzic’s team still recovered to leapfrog Bayern, only to be denied the title on goal difference when their destiny lay in their own hands. “The 34th game last season wasn't anything Bayern did to us. They just won their game, it was fair enough,” said Brandt. “I think there's enough spice already in this game.”
That 4-2 has another pertinence: it remains Dortmund’s only defeat in the Bundesliga in 2023. Their record for the calendar year is outstanding, with 67 points from 28 games, to Bayern’s 60. If that reflects Bayern’s stumbles under first Nagelsmann and Tuchel, the Bavarians have long seemed to possess a deeper talent pool and Kane’s arrival has exacerbated that.
His stellar start to the Bundesliga has brought 12 goals in nine games, two hat-tricks and a strike from his own half in last week’s 8-0 demolition of Darmstadt. And yet Brandt opted not to identify Kane as the danger man. “They score a lot of goals; they have many players who can get into positions to score goals,” he explained. “There is a lot of focus on Harry Kane at the moment. For me, Leroy Sane's development is sensational. He is so strong at the moment. I don't want to talk Harry Kane down, given how many goals he has scored, but I think Leroy is their key player.”
Kane’s goals have nevertheless included strikes in the biggest games of his brief Bayern career, apart from his underwhelming cameo of a debut in the Super Cup loss to Leipzig. The spotlight lingered on him when he faced Manchester United and he scored, albeit from the penalty spot. Bayern have drawn 2-2 with two potential title rivals, in RB Leipzig and Leverkusen. Kane has scored each time.
Kane had a watching brief as Bayern crashed out of the German Cup to third-tier Saarbrucken on Wednesday. Matthijs de Ligt, who came off then, could be ruled out with injury; Joshua Kimmich’s early red card against Darmstadt means he is suspended.
Dortmund, meanwhile, extended their unbeaten run at the Signal Iduna Park to 26 games by beating Hoffenheim on Wednesday. Marco Reus, who scored the winner, is set to make his 400th appearance for the club. If there is a sense that Dortmund are taking time to adjust from the twin blows of missing out on the Bundesliga and losing Jude Bellingham, the midfielder’s replacements have begun to make an impact: Felix Nmecha delivered a classy decider against Newcastle and Marcel Sabitzer’s first Bundesliga goal came in the comeback to draw with Eintracht Frankfurt.
If that resolve stands Dortmund in good stead, it is hard to shake off the perception that their best chance to dethrone Bayern came last season, when Bellingham was still in Germany and Kane was not. “The most important thing on Saturday will be who is the most courageous on the day,” Brandt argued. But it could be a forward who is averaging either a goal or an assist every 46 minutes in the Bundesliga.
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