Borussia Dortmund vs FC Bayern München – Der Klassiker, the biggest fixture in Germany’s domestic football calendar – has supporters the world over in frenzied anticipation, and Ottmar Hitzfeld is just one of the many millions waiting for that first whistle.
A Bundesliga-winning coach with both clubs, the 67-year-old is ideally placed to offer his opinion ahead of Der Klassiker at SIGNAL IDUNA PARK on Saturday (kick-off: 18:30CET/17:30GMT). In an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com, Hitzfeld explains why he believes the men from Munich might just be favourites to win and offers his tip on who will come out on top in the race to be top goalscorer.
bundesliga.com: Ottmar Hitzfeld, can we assume that the result this weekend won’t be as one-sided last the first Klassiker this season, when Bayern beat BVB 5-1?
Hitzfeld: Yes, definitely. You can always have games that basically offer no contest, but in a match like this – a clash between the league’s absolute best – it’ll more likely be a tightly-contested affair.
bundesliga.com: Are you surprised by how strong Dortmund have been this season? They have more points at this stage of a season than any other second-placed side in a Bundesliga history.
Hitzfeld: Not really. Dortmund obviously had a lot of problems last season, but they played a long way below their capabilities. The second half of last season showed us signs of what the team is capable of, and with a new coach this season, they have added motivation. Thomas Tuchel is doing a very good job with the team. He’s improved them and made them more solid.
bundesliga.com: One of the sub-plots to this game is the race to be top scorer between Borussia’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski. What’s your take on the free-scoring duo?
Hitzfeld: I think Lewandowski will just about finish on top, simply because it’s easier for him to score goals playing for Bayern than it is for Aubameyang playing for Dortmund. He gets better service and better chances. Aubameyang tends to have to score goals by himself, whereas Lewandowski gets a lot of help from his teammates.
bundesliga.com: Who do you think has been the most important player for Dortmund this season?
Hitzfeld: Without a doubt Aubameyang, because of his fantastic goal return and his remarkable improvement. Under Tuchel he’s gone up a level as a player. He’s just such a consistent performer now.
bundesliga.com: Franck Ribery has made a strong comeback from injury for Bayern recently. Do you think he can get back to his best?
Hitzfeld: If anyone can, then it’s Ribery because he has fantastic mental strength, and he’s shown in the last few matches that he can still produce his best. He's still quick, can still dribble and his acceleration has actually got better. He’s assisted a lot of goals even though he’s barely played, and that speaks volumes for his natural ability. He has no fear, he goes in for 50-50s and he’s playing with the shackles off.
bundesliga.com: Do you think the title race will still be an exciting one by the time the final whistle goes on Saturday evening?
Hitzfeld: For me, Bayern remain the favourites because they're unbelievably consistent in terms of the way they play football and they way they dominate the opposition. But getting something from Dortmund is never easy. In a game between two top teams like this, the little details can make the difference, and I think this weekend will be no different.
bundesliga.com: So how will this Klassiker unfold then?
Hitzfeld: As I say, Bayern are favourites, but I think I’ll go for a draw. And even if Bayern play for a win, a draw will still be a good result to maintain that eight-point gap at the top of the league. With that big a gap and with nine games to go, not much can go wrong.
Interview by Alexis Menuge