Der Klassiker: What to watch for as Bayern, Dortmund clash for title

Gene Principe connects with Jeff Blair, Peter Galindo and Dan Riccio to preview Tuesday's matchup between Bundesliga's top two teams.

The latest edition of Der Klassiker between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund is one of the most crucial meetings in years.

With Bayern only four points ahead of Dortmund atop the Bundesliga table, a victory for BVB would move them that much closer to ending the Bavarians’ monopoly. RB Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Monchengladbach would also trail by as few as six points with six matches remaining this season, provided all three clubs win their respective games in midweek.

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While Dortmund lost to Bayern 4-0 in November, plenty has changed for both teams. Here’s a look at what to expect from Germany’s top two clubs at Signal Iduna Park on Tuesday.

Key absentees

Bayern Munich coach Hansi Flick ruled out midfielder Thiago Alcantara for the match as the Spanish international recovers from an adductor injury, which also forced him to miss Saturday’s win over Eintracht Frankfurt.

Leon Goretzka replaced Thiago and fared well. He’d often drop between the centre-backs to provide extra protection against counter-attacks while midfield partner Joshua Kimmich pushed forward.

Leon Goretzka’s and Joshua Kimmich’s statistical chalkboard vs. Eintracht Frankfurt.

However, Borussia Dortmund’s 3-4-3 system presents different challenges than Eintracht’s 4-2-3-1. The 3-4-3 allows BVB to push all three forwards higher up the pitch to put pressure on Bayern when they are on the ball in the defensive third. They’ve attempted around the same number of pressures in the final third as Eintracht, but they own a higher success rate of recovering possession, per

Goretzka will likely be involved in those sequences for Bayern, and he’s not as strong of a passer as Thiago, who is vital when the league leaders have the ball. The German has a lower passing success rate than Thiago in the Bundesliga this season, per

Thiago Alcantara’s and Leon Goretzka’s statistical radars for Bayern in the 2019-20 season. (via Understat)

When examining the expected goals buildup per 90 minutes (xGBuildup is a metric that determines a player’s involvement in a scoring chance, except for possessions when he attempts the final shot or pass), Thiago is more involved in sequences that lead to scoring chances.

Goretzka’s expected goals chain (xGChain is similar to xGBuildup, but it counts possessions when the player attempts the final shot or pass) is higher, but he’s played less and has been deployed slightly further up the pitch than Thiago, which contributes to the superior xGChain per 90 minutes.

Therefore, if Dortmund can press Goretzka, it could stifle the buildup down the left flank and force turnovers, which can produce dangerous counter-attacks.

Dortmund will likely be without a key midfielder of their own in Axel Witsel. The Belgian has a muscular injury that has kept him out of action since the Bundesliga restarted, although Mahmoud Dahoud has been a valiant deputy versus Schalke and Wolfsburg.

Mahmoud Dahoud’s statistical chalkboard vs. Wolfsburg.

But this will be Dahoud’s toughest challenge yet, should he start. Bayern’s intense high press will be a stern test for the 23-year-old, whose tenure at Dortmund has been patchy at best. If he can navigate the pressure, then the hosts will be in good shape.

Seismic Strikers

Two of the Bundesliga’s hottest strikers will surely be heavily involved if either of their teams emerge victorious on Tuesday.

Robert Lewandowski needs no introduction. The Polish forward has netted 27 times in the league this season for Bayern and is on pace to secure his fifth Golden Boot.

Erling Haaland, Lewandowski’s young adversary, has taken Europe by storm with his absurd rate of scoring. The 19-year-old scored 28 goals in 22 appearances across all competitions with Red Bull Salzburg before he was sold to Dortmund in January, where he’s continued his magnificent form.

Saturday’s win over Wolfsburg was only the third time Haaland wasn’t involved in a goal for Dortmund since his arrival. He’s recorded 10 tallies in as many Bundesliga matches with BVB.

Haaland could be the key to Dortmund unlocking Bayern’s defence. The young Norwegian thrives when he makes runs into open space and latches onto through balls or crosses.

Bayern plays with a very high line, so centre-backs Jerome Boateng and David Alaba will have to be on high alert for Haaland whenever Dortmund bursts forward.

Canada vs. Morocco

A battle between two of the most impressive full-backs in the Bundesliga this season might be the most important clash in this game.

Bayern’s Canadian sensation Alphonso Davies and Dortmund’s Moroccan international Achraf Hakimi will line up on the same flank in a Clash of the Titans-style meeting. Both players are blessed with incredible pace, dribbling and vision. But the match winner may come down to which player can exploit his opponent the most.

Davies is the stronger defender in terms of interceptions and tackles, which this statistical radar backs up.

Hakimi also has issues defending in 1-on-1 situations, unlike Davies, who is always responsible to track back and help Bayern defend.

Yes, Hakimi has 10 league assists compared to Davies’ five, but that doesn’t mean the Canadian isn’t a key player for Bayern in the final third, as this updated radar from May 21 highlights.

Both teams press aggressively and predominantly use the same flank when attacking – Dortmund down the right and Bayern on the left, according to – so Davies and Hakimi should be heavily involved on both sides of the ball.

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