Look out London, the Germans are coming!
Wembley plays host for an invasion from the Bundesliga on Saturday evening as newly-crowned German champions, Bayern Munich, wrestle their rivals from the Rheinland, Borussia Dortmund. The two giants have been the major forces in their domestic league for the last few seasons and have had some epic battles as they have traded the Bundesliga title back and forth. This year, as the Bavarians have swept all before them at home and abroad, Dortmund have saved their best for the Champions League allowing Munich to romp to a facile championship victory.
Jupp Henckes’ men have been scintillating as they have combined their charatceristic teutonic effiency with a new found sense of adventure. When you have the likes of Thomas Mueller, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Arjen Robben, Mario Mandzukic and Franck Ribery coming at you from all angles it’s very difficult to resist the temptation not to play with the handbrake off. Add to that, veteran coach Heynckes, who previously won Europe’s top honour when in charge of Real Madrid in 1998, has known for sometime that this season was going to be his swansong at the Allianz Arena. And what better way to bow out than by delivering the Champions League to the Munich faithful for the first time since 2001 and to gain absolution for the devastation they felt when being shocked by Chelsea on home turf in last year’s final. Since being effectively put out to grass by the powers-that-be in favour of Pep Guardiola, Heynckes’ mission to achieve a clean sweep of trophies has gathered pace and success on Saturday evening will give him a particular sense of accomplishment and plenty of reason to give his soon-to-be ex-employers the German version of the V-sign.
The rather formidable obstacle in Bayern’s way are the football hipster’s favourite, Borussia Dortmund, managed by the charismatic Jurgen Klopp.
Having recovered from near financial ruin in the early-to-mid 2000’s, when Bayern actually loaned money to Dortmund to be able to pay their players, Klopp has engineered a meteoric rise to prominence in Europe. The development of young talent and knitting them together into a side capable of playing some of the most attractive football seen in the Champions League has been remarkable, and a win over their great rivals from the south of Germany will elevate this set of Dortmund stars to the level of their beloved 1997 Champions League winning squad. Europe’s most watched team (based on average home attendances)contains names that just two or three years ago were barely known outside the Signal Iduna Park, but their exciting brand of football and two recent Bundesliga wins has catapulted Robert Lewandowski, Ilkay Gundogan and Marco Reus amongst others to stardom.
Mercurial playmaker, Bayern-bound Mario Goetze, misses the final for Dortmund which could tip the balance in favour of Die Roten. Klopp must also face the very likely prospect that this game could represent the end of an era for the club. Many of Europe’s richest clubs are circling over his players and with Goetze already packing up his things in preparation for new surroundings, Lewandowski, Gundogan and several others could also soon be requiring the need for furniture removal companies.
Having been blown away in their quest for a third consecutive Bundesliga title, Dortmund have concentrated on making a better fist of their Champions League campaign than their previous two attempts where they failed to ignite. This year has been in total contrast to those underwhelming efforts and just as Bayern have their personal reasons to spur them on, Dortmund seem to have attached a huge amount of emotional sentiment to winning this year’s Champions League.
This game has all the ingredients for a classic European final. Two great clubs, two great managers, 22 gifted players at the peak of their personal and collective powers. Expect to see drama, goals, entertainment and possibly an upset. Don’t be surprised to see this go to the dreaded penalty shoot-out.