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People, Person, Celebrating - © DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga GmbH
People, Person, Celebrating - © DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga GmbH

A Klassiker explainer: why is the match between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund so important?


When Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund meet, football fans in Germany and around the world focus in on the Bundesliga duo's heavyweight contest. bundesliga.com explains how the Klassiker has become one of football's biggest fixtures.

What ISN'T the Klassiker?

Let's start here. The Klassiker is similar only in name, not in nature to Spain's Clásico or even the Superclásico of Argentina. Nor is it a derby like that of Milan, the Old Firm in Glasgow, the North-West or North-East derbies in England, or Dortmund's Revierderby.

Real Madrid vs. Barcelona is highly political, while the Buenos Aires rivalry of Boca Juniors and River Plate is based on social differences. Rangers and Celtic fans are divided along religious lines, while Manchesters United and City, and Newcastle United and Sunderland - like Dortmund and Schalke - have local or regional rivalries.

Watch: Tifo Football explained the Klassiker ahead of the 100th Bundesliga meeting in 2019

So, what IS the Klassiker?

Like Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique de Marseille, the rivalry between Bayern and Dortmund is based on the duo being each other's biggest domestic rival. And like the Classique in France, Der Klassiker is quite a recent phenomenon.

While the two clubs with the highest average attendances in Europe over recent years have won 24 of the last 28 Bundesliga titles between them, that has admittedly been dominated by the Munich side.

Prior to that, however, while Bayern were crowned champions 11 times since the founding of the Bundesliga in 1963, BVB were rarely at the races. Finishes of fourth, third, second and third in the first four years of the league were the best it got domestically for the Black-Yellows until the 1990s. That said, in 1966 they did become the first German team to win a European trophy with the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, which Bayern then matched the following year.

Dortmund even spent four consecutive years in the second tier during the 70s while Bayern were winning three consecutive European Cups. It was during that decade that the Bavarians recorded their biggest Bundesliga victory ever when they beat BVB 11-1.

Watch: All about Bayern Munich

In the eyes of many, that era was the birth of the original German Klassiker between Bayern and Borussia Mönchengladbach as they sat at the top of the domestic footballing landscape for nine seasons. The latter even edged the rivalry with five titles to four.

As for the contest between Bayern and Dortmund up to the end of the 70s, it had already taken on a pretty one-sided nature. From 21 league encounters, the Bavarians had won 11, including that 11-1 thrashing, to just six wins for Borussia.

The 80s looked a slightly more balanced affair with four victories for BVB and seven for Bayern in 20 Bundesliga meetings, as well as nine draws. FCB have more Bundesliga draws against Dortmund than any other team (30).

It was in the 90s, though, that things began to change with Dortmund on the climb. Over 15 years before the fabled Jürgen Klopp era began at the Signal Iduna Park, Dortmunders thrived in the age of Ottmar Hitzfeld.

Watch: All about Borussia Dortmund 

A former Bundesliga player with VfB Stuttgart, he went on to develop a name for himself as a coach in Switzerland. On the back of winning the title there with Grasshoppers he was hired by Dortmund in 1991 after they’d finished 10th under Horst Köppel.

The impact was instantaneous as BVB finished runners-up to Stuttgart only on goal difference. They beat Bayern, who had finished the previous four seasons under Jupp Heynckes either first or second, 3-0 both home and away as the Bavarians finished the season in 10th place – equalling their second-worst finish in the Bundesliga.

In six seasons under Hitzfeld, the Black-Yellows never finished lower than fourth, and in 1994/95 they finally claimed their first Bundesliga title, finishing six points clear of Bayern in sixth. The following year BVB defended their title. Again they finished six points ahead of the record champions, but this time Bayern had come second, having been overtaken by BVB with four games to play in the first real title race between the pair.

Watch: Dortmund’s best Klassiker goals

Order was restored from a Munich perspective the next season as they ended Borussia’s grip on the Meisterschale under Giovanni Trapattoni, but Dortmund would have the last laugh.

They may have finished third in the league, but Hitzfeld's charges had recorded a 2-0 aggregate win over Manchester United to reach the final of the 1996/97 UEFA Champions League. Where was the match to be played? None other than Munich's Olympiastadion – Bayern’s home ground.

BVB prevailed thanks to goals from Karl-Heinz Riedle and Lars Ricken, beating a Juventus side that featured Zinedine Zidane and Didier Deschamps to win 3-1 and steal the limelight from the German champions.

It was even sweeter considering it had come after an infamous incident at the Westfalenstadion just two months earlier. The final score of 1-1 was already in the books by the third minute when Ruggiero Rizzitelli's goal cancelled out Riedle's second-minute opener. The real prickly point came later in the game, though, when Bayern captain Lothar Matthäus made a gesture after a challenge with Andreas Möller, rubbing his eyes as if crying. The latter reacted with a palm across his opponent’s face.

It became known as the cry-baby incident as the Ballon d'Or winner accused his friend and fellow 1990 FIFA World Cup winner of being a bit soft when challenged. Matthäus told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung afterwards: "I wanted to tell him to play on, to show that you're a man."

Matthäus (l.) lit a spark for the Klassiker fire when he taunted Möller (r.) in 1997. - imago images / Team 2

The two teams had already been battling for national supremacy for a number of years, but this moment between two figures of identification for both sides got things really bubbling.

At the end of the season, Hitzfeld stepped down as coach and took over as sporting director. Under Nevio Scala, BVB finished a disappointing 10th, but the rest of the world would get its first international taste of this burgeoning rivalry.

The clubs met in the quarter-finals of the 1997/98 Champions League. It was the first time in the competition's history that two clubs from the same country had faced each other and saw the defending European champions progress 1-0 on aggregate thanks to Stephane Chapuisat's goal 19 minutes into extra-time.

That summer Hitzfeld left the club to work under general manager Uli Hoeneß, his former West Germany teammate from the 1972 Summer Olympics, as head coach at Bayern. In six seasons there, the Bavarians won the Bundesliga four times, the DFB Cup on two occasions and the Champions League. In the three years following his departure as coach from Dortmund, the Black-Yellows had finished 10th, fourth and 11th.

Hitzfeld's first campaign saw Bayern win the title by a then record 15 points, but it became clear that Dortmund had got under their skin in recent years. That was played out in another spectacular encounter on Matchday 24.

Bayern found themselves 2-0 down and at a man disadvantage with 36 minutes gone in a bad-tempered meeting in Dortmund. Never one to lie down and take a defeat, the Bavarians' fierce goalkeeper Oliver Kahn targeted Chapuisat with a kung-fu kick and also appeared to have a little nibble on Heiko Herrlich’s cheek.

Watch: Kahn's walk on the wild side in April 1999

It wasn't exactly conventional but it seemed to do the job for the visitors as they rallied in the second half. Quick-fire goals from Alexander Zickler and Carsten Jancker brought Bayern level before Kahn saved a penalty from Ricken with 15 minutes remaining. The draw left the record champions 15 points clear with 10 games remaining, never to be caught.

Things turned around again, though, with the appointment at Borussia of former player Matthias Sammer in 2000. In his first year as a head coach, the three-time Bundesliga champion (twice with Dortmund) led BVB to third before bringing home their third Bundesliga title the following season after pipping Bayer Leverkusen on the final day and finishing two points clear of Bayern.

The second meeting of Sammer's first season further underlined the development of the rivalry as the teams played out what became known as the dirtiest match in Bundesliga history.

A total of 14 cards were dished out in the 1-1 draw at the Westfalenstadion. Roque Santa Cruz and Patrik Andersson were the only Bayern players not to have their name taken as Bixente Lizarazu was sent off before half-time for two bookings and Stefan Effenberg followed after the break for a straight red.

BVB saw just two yellows but Evanilson joined the Munich pair for an early shower after his dismissal late in the second half.

All of a sudden, though, the boiling pot was taken off the stove and put on ice.

Dortmund as a club was on the brink of collapse due to poor financial management. They were heavily in debt and had to sell their stadium. In fact, in order to cover wages for a number of months they accepted a €2 million loan from Bayern and players took a 20 percent pay cut.

The impact was felt on the pitch. Sammer was able to guide them to sixth in 2003/04 but it was mutually agreed that he would step down at the end of the season despite his contract running until 2010.

Under successors Bert van Marwijk and Thomas Doll, the club finished no better than seventh and even went as low as 13th. In that time Bayern won the title three times under Hitzfeld and Felix Magath.

From Sammer's departure until the first meeting of 2010/11, Dortmund recorded just a solitary win over Bayern and conceded five goals on three occasions. There was, though, a tight DFB Cup final between the sides in 2008.

Mladen Petric's 92nd-minute equaliser for BVB took the game in Berlin to extra-time before Luca Toni’s second of the night gave Bayern the win and rounded off another domestic double in Hitzfeld's last game for the club in his second spell.

Watch: Bayern’s best Klassiker goals

Der Klassiker is born

Klopp took over the reins in Dortmund after that, while Jürgen Klinsmann was the new coach in Munich. The latter failed to see out the season as the defending champions never once led the table and lost their title to Wolfsburg. On the other hand, BVB enjoyed a steady campaign as they finished sixth.

The next year under Louis van Gaal saw Bayern reclaim the title and do the double over Borussia, including a 5-1 thrashing in Dortmund, where Thomas Müller scored his first two Bundesliga goals.

Watch: Every Thomas Müller goal against Dortmund

After that, however, the tables turned and the Klassiker was truly born. Klopp's style of play combined with excellent budget signings such as Robert Lewandowski and Shinji Kagawa propelled Dortmund to the summit of German football, ushering in a new era where Bayern simply couldn't keep up.

Five competitive meetings across 2010/11 and 2011/12 saw five Borussia wins as they swept to consecutive Bundesliga titles. The last of those victories even saw them beat the Munich giants 5-2 in the final of the DFB Cup, Lewandowski scoring a hat-trick that day, to claim the club's first and so far only domestic double.

Lewandowski’s hat-trick in the 2012 DFB Cup final against Bayern won Dortmund their first domestic double. - 2012 Getty Images

That year Bayern suffered a triple setback. Not only had they finished as runners-up to Klopp’s Dortmund in both the league and the cup, but Heynckes’ side also lost the Champions League final at the Allianz Arena to Chelsea.

With the rivalry already dominating domestic football, the Klassiker went global in the biggest club fixture on the planet 12 months later.

Former BVB coach Sammer had taken over from Christian Nerlinger as Bayern's sporting director as they went on to recover the Bundesliga title in record time, but had failed to beat their rivals in the league, drawing both encounters 1-1. In the DFB Cup, they had met in the quarter-finals with Arjen Robben scoring the only goal of the game in Munich.

The two clubs had both caught the eye in the Champions League with their impressive runs through the knockout stage. Dortmund had secured a dramatic late win over Manuel Pellegrini’s Malaga in the quarter-finals before four goals from Lewandowski in the semi-finals saw them progress to the Wembley final at the expense of Real Madrid.

Bayern had dispatched Italian giants Juventus 4-0 over two legs in the quarters before dismantling Barcelona 7-0 in the semis to set up the first all-German Champions League final. It was those beatings of Spain's Clásico participants that originally led to the term 'German Clásico'.

Jürgen Klopp’s (r.) Dortmund side pushed Arjen Robben (l.) and Bayern all the way across every competition. - AFP via Getty Images

Despite the Bavarians' dominance of the league, the two draws with BVB had shown how tightly matched the clubs were. The build-up was dominated by the news that Bayern had confirmed the signing of Dortmund talisman Mario Götze for the new season, but the match still lived up to the billing.

Manuel Neuer had to be at his best in the first half and made a string of big saves to deny a dominant Dortmund. Despite the pressure, Bayern did still cause problems and Robben forced Roman Weidenfeller into a number of stops of his own.

The second half continued the fast-paced action with Robben and Franck Ribéry combining to set up Mario Mandzukic for the opening goal before Dante took down Marco Reus in the box and Ilkay Gündogan levelled from the penalty spot.

Neven Subotic cleared a Müller ball off the line before 'Robbery' combined to lethal effect once again, allowing the Dutchman to knock the ball past Weidenfeller and trickle over the line with just a minute remaining.

Robben’s delicate finish past Roman Weidenfeller at Wembley brought Bayern a fifth European title. - 2013 AFP

It turned into one of the most breathtaking and dramatic finals in Champions League history. Klopp was already a hero in Dortmund for breaking Bayern's stranglehold on the domestic scene, but Heynckes went down in history in Munich.

It was the club's fifth European title and just a week later they beat Stuttgart 3-2 in the final of the DFB Cup to become the first German team ever to win the treble.

The world had now realised what Germany's top two were capable of and they were now paying attention.

Since the season of Klopp's first title, Bayern and Dortmund have met 43 times in 14 years across four different competitions. They have contested three of the last 12 DFB Cup finals and met in two other semi-finals. The season-opening Supercup has featured a Klassiker in eight of those years with Bayern winning five to Dortmund's three.

Of those 43 games, Bayern have won 23 inside 90 minutes compared to 12 for Dortmund. Three of them were decided on penalties (two FCB wins, one for BVB) and the 2014 DFB Cup final went in favour of the Munich club in extra-time. It even took Pep Guardiola's all-conquering side a year to get to grips with Borussia, and they only did the double over them in Klopp’s final season.

And most recently, the pair took the 2022/23 Bundesliga title race down to the wire. With one hand seemingly on the Meisterschale, simply needing to beat Mainz at home on the final day, Borussia slipped up and allowed Bayern to nip in with a late Jamal Musiala winner in Cologne to retain their title for an 11th straight season - this time on goal difference over their great rival.

Watch: The story of the final day of 2022/23

While Dortmund have suffered more defeats (54) and conceded more goals (223) in the Bundesliga against Bayern than against any other team, the record champions have won just 49.5 percent of their top-flight matches against BVB. They only have a worse win rate against Gladbach (47.3 percent) among current Bundesliga clubs.

Bayern have also lost more Bundesliga home games against Borussia than against any other club (nine, same as against Cologne), and BVB's three league victories at the Allianz Arena is again second only to Gladbach's four.

Despite being a fixture that long failed to capture the imagination and quietly bubbled under the surface, matches between Bayern and Dortmund have long produced some of the most eye-catching games, originally in the Bundesliga but now in both the DFB Cup and the Champions League.

It may not have the social and political background of other fixtures given top billing in their countries, but Bayern versus Borussia – itself a historic conflict between their namesake states of Bavaria and Prussia – has been the flagship fixture of German football for a good two decades.

The two teams have been at the forefront of the nation’s football and their meetings have set the benchmark for others between German clubs. You may see the name as artificial, but the sporting rivalry between the two is anything but. The fixture is a Klassiker and the world takes notice when Bayern Munich play Borussia Dortmund.

Charlie Mason

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