Munich – Odious they may sometimes be but comparisons are very much part and parcel of football, not least when two great rivals are gearing up to go head-to-head. So it was in the run-up to the first Bundesliga meeting of the season between Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern München and when it came to the particular matter of , some of the speculation was nigh-on feverish.
Promising start for BVB newbies
Widely regarded as the most gifted player of an exceptional German generation, Götze swapped Dortmund for Bayern over the summer in a surprise move which, to put it mildly, did not sit well with Borussia's army of diehard followers and head coach Jürgen Klopp was not alone in taking his departure as a visceral body-blow.
However, while the 21-year-old attacking midfielder's opening months with the German and European champions became one long struggle to recover from first one injury then another, there was a growing consensus that the two new signings jointly tasked with replacing him were in the process of helping Dortmund become an even better all-round team than before. They went into the Matchday 13 summit meeting looking to claw back the deficit on their Champions League final conquerors to a single point and, with home advantage, many a neutral pundit fancied their chances of doing just that against Pep Guardiola's star ensemble.
Although the visitors would take to the pitch still unbeaten in the league, while the hosts were coming straight off the back of their second defeat of the campaign at Wolfsburg, Klopp's Schwarz-Gelben had racked up a division-best 32 goals in their first dozen games and summer arrivals Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had wasted little time showing what they could contribute to the team.
Storybook stuff on Götze's Dortmund return
Dynamic, high-scoring midfielder Mkhitaryan and lightning-fast Gabon international goalgetter Aubameyang certainly appeared to offer the coach a wider variety of attacking options than before, as well as giving BVB more strength in depth – one of their more obvious disadvantages as Bayern swept the board last season. Both were well-acclimatised and on form for the visit of the men from the Bavarian capital, although Klopp opted to leave Aubameyang on the bench and play Mkhitaryan in the hole behind lone striker Robert Lewandowski.
Götze meanwhile was only just back to something resembling match fitness and, with far less playing time under his belt, also had to be content with a dugout seat for the start of proceedings at his old stomping ground. He came off it eleven minutes into the second half, replacing Mario Mandzukic up front to a chorus of catcalls echoing throughout the massive, packed-out stadium. It was 0-0 at that juncture, with the best chances to date having fallen Dortmund's way. Ten minutes later, with his sixth touch of the ball and his first shot on goal, Götze put Bayern in front and set them on the road to an eventual 3-0 victory.
What the stats say
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the contest did in fact highlight an old BVB problem, which returned with a vengeance over the closing weeks of the year. Impressive as it is, that goal count should actually be quite a bit higher given the number of scoring opportunities they almost invariably carve out when they take to the pitch in the Bundesliga. Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan have played their part there, just as they have in Borussia's triumphs.
Not so fast
Both players were on from the start at Mönchengladbach, where Dortmund went down 2-0, their first defeat of the season, despite racking up no fewer than 26 attempts on goal to the hosts' six. Götze, by contrast, despite those injury woes restricting him to considerably less Bundesliga action up to the winter break, has delivered a more productive return, relatively speaking, than either of his successors in Dortmund.
Statistics never tell the whole story, of course, but they do offer a pretty reliable plotline. Götze took his leave of Dortmund on the back of his best season yet in that department – ten goals, eight assists, 82 chances created and a pass completion rate of just under 86 percent, remarkably high for a creative forward player. As BVB sporting director Michael Zorc admiringly noted of the club's former favourite son, “99 times out 100 he makes the right decision. In football, that's a priceless commodity.”
It seems odds-on that Dortmund will be back firing on all cylinders sooner rather than later once the action gets back underway. Their game without Götze may never be quite the same, but if Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang can deliver consistently on that early promise, die Schwarz-Gelben will unquestionably continue to wreak havoc on opposing defences both at home and abroad.