Cologne - With an incredible seven Bundesliga titles to his name following stints at the helm of both FC Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund, few can more accurately muse over Saturday’s upcoming Klassiker than legendary head coach Ottmar Hitzfeld.
Speaking exclusively to bundesliga.com ahead of the clash between these two footballing heavyweights, the 65-year-old provides a unique insight into the current form being exhibited by both sides, Dortmund’s recent decline and the impressive form of 2014 World Cup winner Mario Götze.
bundesliga.com: Ottmar Hitzfeld, the table suggests Saturday's Klassiker isn't between two sides on an equal footing. That's unusual, isn't it?
Ottmar Hitzfeld: It's certainly an unfamiliar position to be in for BVB. Dortmund have been FC Bayern's fiercest rivals in the battle for Bundesliga supremacy and now they're in a crisis.
bundesliga.com: Can you explain their decline?
Hitzfeld: Even though the departure of Robert Lewandowski was a big loss for them, few would have expected them to make this kind of start to the season. Of course they had a lengthy injury list, new players needed to be integrated and the players that went to the World Cup either took time to regain their form or still need time to, but it's the same for Bayern. I get the impression it's more to do with the fact Dortmund aren't used to losing. They haven't had a losing streak like this since 2000.
bundesliga.com: Things are going swimmingly for BVB in the Champions League - three wins after as many games and no goals conceded - but the turning point still hasn't come domestically. What's that down to?
Hitzfeld: Teams performing at contrasting levels in different competitions happens quite a lot. You could also point towards it being a psychological problem because Dortmund have nearly always been the better side, especially on home soil. They just seem to have forgotten how to score goals. The players' confidence also takes a knock with each defeat. Then they're perhaps too eager to push forward for a counter and the dilemma becomes a lot bigger.
bundesliga.com: With nothing to lose, can Dortmund go there and play freely?
Hitzfeld: I wouldn't necessarily say they have nothing to lose. Three points are up for grabs and that's what Dortmund urgently need in their current situation. The psychological pressure isn't as bad for BVB, though, because no one expects them to beat Bayern.
bundesliga.com: And what about Bayern? Have they got something to prove after the draw with Gladbach?
Hitzfeld: Bayern can live with picking up a point against one of their closest competitors. It struck me as if the players were, in some ways, lacking the necessary concentration in front of goal, assuming that the next chance would always present itself due to their dominating style of play.
bundesliga.com: Will that also be the case against Dortmund?
Hitzfeld: BVB won’t set themselves up as defensively as Mönchengladbach did. That will give the Münchner more room to manoeuvre in, which then automatically allows them to create more goalscoring opportunities. However, most recently in the UEFA Champions League, Dortmund have built on the foundation of a compact backline by hitting on the counter. This could perhaps be one of the keys to success this time around.
bundesliga.com: What would a defeat mean for FC Bayern?
Hitzfeld: Suffering another defeat against Dortmund would definitely be a small shock for FC Bayern, especially in front of their own supporters. For BVB it all comes down to ensuring their defensive line stays strong again. Dortmund will certainly be put under pressure - it’s what happened to Gladbach too - but that’s the most important time to maintain stability.
bundesliga.com: The injured players are slowly returning for Bayern. Could that actually be a problem for their big, star-studded squad?
Hitzfeld: Guardiola has always had a good grip on that. Unrest hasn't yet arisen, but that’s also linked to their success. By rotating his side, Guardiola has also managed to improve their quality, as the competition for places both motivates and pushes the players.
bundesliga.com: Is that how you explain a dramatic upswing in performance like that of Mario Götze?
Hitzfeld: For Mario Götze, there were lots of new variables which he had to deal with after his move to Munich. A new head coach, a new environment, a new style of play and, above all, much more competition for places. However, he’s grown stronger as a result of his World Cup exploits and he’s demonstrating that out on the pitch at present.
bundesliga.com: And what’s your prediction for the game on Saturday?
Hitzfeld: I can certainly see it ending in a draw.
bundesliga.com: Would that represent a turn for the better at BVB?
Hitzfeld: I still remain optimistic that Dortmund can end the season in a UEFA Champions League qualification spot because, fortunately, Borussia were rarely the weaker team in their recent defeats. If they had been, then I’d be really worried.
Interview by Michael Reis
Go behind the scenes of this mammoth clash below, courtesy of the official YouTube channel: