Will it be Bundesliga title no. 6 for Borussia Dortmund, or a seventh on the trot for Bayern Munich? Only seven matches remain this season and the biggest game of all – Der Klassiker – is next up. The victor could well be lifting the Bundesliga Meisterschale aloft in May.
Each side will boast supreme quality all over the pitch, but in key areas is where the clash at the Allianz Arena on 6 April could be won or lost. bundesliga.com takes a look at the key Klassiker battles that will prove pivotal…
Jadon Sancho vs. David Alaba
Looking at Borussia Dortmund’s forward options, it’s hard to venture beyond Jadon Sancho as BVB’s most direct attacking threat. The English teenager has shown a willingness to run at defenders all season long, and that approach has reaped him rich rewards: eight goals and a league-leading 13 assists from 26 Bundesliga appearances, as well as a place in the England senior squad.
One of the London-born winger’s many gifts is his self-belief to continue attempting dribbles, even when the first two or three individual battles in a match may not go his way, and that persistence makes his joust with Bayern's David Alaba a truly thrilling prospect. The Austrian has been one of world football’s best left-backs for a number of years, but of more importance than his reputation are his physical attributes and his likeness to the man he’ll be up against. This contest is pace versus pace, a clash between an on-fire forward and a defender than loves to attack. Can one push the other back and limit his influence on proceedings? The ebb and flow between these two on the right side of the pitch and the results it produces will be critical to either sides success.
Watch: What makes Sancho such an asset for Dortmund?
Robert Lewandowski vs. Manuel Akanji
While Dortmund have spread their goals around this season – Paco Alcacer has 16, Marco Reus 15 and Sancho eight – Bayern’s source of goals has flowed via the usual channel of Robert Lewandowski. The Poland international, a three-time winner of the Torjägerkanone, once again sits atop the scorer’s charts with 19 goals. He recently replaced Claudio Pizarro as the highest-scoring non-German player in Bundesliga history – he boasts 199 goals and counting – and has been the scourge of his former club, with an incredible 14 goals in 16 appearances against them since his move to Munich from Dortmund back in 2014.
How do you stop a player who has hit double figures against no less than nine (!) Bundesliga clubs and scored twice the last time these two sides met? That’s the question Manuel Akanji will be asking himself ahead of this clash, yet the 23-year-old will no doubt relish the challenge. In a very short space of time since joining the club from FC Basel in January 2018, the Switzerland international has become the bedrock of Dortmund’s defence. His pace gives him one advantage, but so much of Lewandowski’s skill is in the timing of his runs and the positions he finds in the box. Will Akanji be able to show the concentration and awareness necessary to keep his quarry in check for 90 minutes? It is a near impossible task – and should make for fantastic viewing.
Watch: Lewandowski's rise to global stardom
Marco Reus vs. Javi Martinez
Pick out the player that has been their team’s most important figure this season and you’d struggle to find one more fitting that the man wearing the armband for the away side on Matchday 28. Marco Reus is Borussia Dortmund. A local lad-turned-club-captain who has been through hell and back with countless career-threatening injuries, his presence in the side makes his teammates raise their performance by an extra ten per cent. He is the brains behind most of Dortmund’s attacking play but he also leads from the front, and his tally of 15 goals and counting is the most he has scored since 2013/14, when he finished with 16 in the league.
Stop Reus, it seems, and you can go a long way to stopping Dortmund, hence why Bayern will likely assign their midfield battering ram Javi Martinez the task of neutralising BVB’s key man. Martinez has, somewhat surprisingly, been used sparingly by Niko Kovac this season, starting just 12 of 27 league games, but the coach knows that he can rely on the Spaniard for the biggest occasions. When Bayern visited Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League in February, Martinez delivered one of the performances of the season to blunt a hitherto devastating Reds attack, and he will be aching to get stuck in to Dortmund’s captain.
Watch: All of Reus' goals in 2018/19 so far
James Rodriguez vs. Axel Witsel
If Reus is Dortmund’s most technically gifted attacking player, then Bayern’s is probably James Rodriguez. Perhaps unequalled in the Bundesliga in terms of his quality on the ball, James unlocks doors in matches in ways other players simply cannot. Take for example his part in the opening goal in the recent 6-0 win over Wolfsburg, where his pass to Serge Gnabry took out the entire defence; his goal in the same game where he found the corner with a beautifully caressed finish; his set-piece deliveries, his switches of play and his crosses are astoundingly accurate, and even his basic passes seem to create danger. He is also a handy goalscorer - see his hat-trick against Mainz on Matchday 26 for example.
As the man protecting the back four, Dortmund’s Axel Witsel has the extremely difficult task of marshalling James, and it will be an interesting challenge for the Belgian. Witsel has excelled both with and without the ball this season, combining dominant defensive positioning with strength in the tackle and composure in possession. Bayern will likely monopolise the ball at the Allianz Arena, with Witsel having to defend deep in his own half. That could work to his advantage if the space in which James can operate is restricted, but the Colombian is a master of drifting into open areas from where he can cause problems, which could give Witsel, a positionally disciplined player, an extra problem to contend with. It really does promise to be a fascinating duel.
Watch: James nets his first Bayern hat-trick
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