- Bartra and Alonso set to face-off for only the third time.
- Bayern midfielder has bested his compatriot on two occasions.
- Dortmund's defence may hinge on the recent Barça recruit.
Amid the searing intensity inside the SIGNAL IDUNA PARK on Saturday, those who can exude a calm certainty amid the voluminous noise will surely thrive, and via serene Spanish opponents Marc Bartra and Xabi Alonso, Der Klassiker's story could unfold.
Playing with vociferous supporters adorned in black and yellow fully behind him, central defender Bartra will look to help his team build from the back against Bayern. Further upfield, meanwhile, Bartra’s compatriot Xabi Alonso will have other ideas as the 34-year-old seeks the defence splitting pass that could turn the Klassiker in Bayern's favour.
For two players who boast lengthy careers in Spain, it is perhaps surprising that Saturday represents just the third time they will come face to face. Last August's Supercup encounter aside, the pair's only previous meeting came in the 2014 Copa del Rey final, when a Bartra goal on his 50th appearance for FC Barcelona couldn't prevent Xabi Alonso's Real Madrid CF from lifting the trophy following a 2-1 extra-time triumph.
Alonso was also there when Bartra made his senior Spain bow, a 2-1 win away to Equatorial Guinea on 16 November 2013. It would be the first and last time they played together at international level. "He is technically and tactically strong and he is a team player; I like a team player," Bayern coach Carlo Ancelotti recently said of Alonso, but the Italian tactician's words could easily apply to Dortmund’s Bartra, such are the similarities that make up the players' respective characteristics.
Essential reading: Ten things about Borussia Dortmund's Marc Bartra.
A product of Barça's La Masia youth academy, Bartra rose through the ranks of the club he joined as a 12-year-old to make his Blaugrana debut under coach Josep Guardiola in 2010. During a period of intense rivalry with Alonso's Madrid, Bartra emerged with an incredible 14 winners' medals as the Catalan club enjoyed the most successful spell in their history.
Both have since moved on, Alonso snapped up by Guardiola at Bayern and Bartra making the switch to Dortmund, where – despite an injury-interrupted campaign – he is beginning to thrive under Thomas Tuchel. "He has a big personality and I think the best thing about him is what a clear ethos he has," the defender recently said of his current coach. "He wants to have the ball and to play attacking football and he has a knack for getting his ideas across. Sometimes we'll even be talking in German and I won't understand what he says exactly, but he still motivates me just by the way he says things."
Bartra's summer transfer to Dortmund was prompted, in part, by Mats Hummels' decision to join Xabi Alonso in a Bayern team that exudes talent. Indeed, it is within such a set-up that he admits he excels. "For my game to be better, I need to be surrounded by better players than me," Alonso recently told the Guardian. "My game is not to have one great action, it is to be consistent throughout: to bring the ball in the best and quickest possible way for the best players to make the last action."
On Saturday, that decisive, game-winning action may not belong to either Alonso or Bartra, yet for two players who quietly excel under pressure, an acknowledging nod or an appreciative wink from a grateful team-mate would certainly suffice in the scorching atmosphere of the SIGNAL IDUNA PARK.