Never Mind The Ballacks

Do Dortmund measure up to Bayern challenge?

Never Mind The Ballacks

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With
a five-point lead over Dortmund at the top and a squad that is more formidable
than your average mother-in-law, Bayern Munich are already many people's
champions elect.

Last
February, Dortmund took a big step towards the title with a mightily impressive
3-1 victory in Munich, they now have to - for everyone else's sake as much as
their own - repeat that performance to keep Bayern within reach. It's ein
Hammerspiel
as the Germans brand their biggest matches - we look at the
nuts and bolts of the respective well-oiled 4-2-3-1 machines to see if Dortmund
have the tools to dismantle Bayern.

GOALKEEPERS

Great
goalkeepers win games for their teams, and though Manuel Neuer has not had
to do that for much of the season, he certainly did so with his wonderful late
save against Augsburg.
Roman Weidenfeller can be brilliant at times,
but is not in the same class as Neuer, even if it is a little surprising he has
never been capped by Germany. He has played four times in Munich and lost
them all,
missing out last season through injury to allow Mitchell Langerak
to make a stunning, winning debut.

BACK
FOURS

Bayern
are this season's Dortmund, having conceded just four times. It's a remarkable
record, and one that can be attributed to added-value in Rafinha and Jerome
Boateng, whose mere presence seems to have galvanised Holger Badstuber's
enormous potential,
while Daniel Van Buyten has also stepped up his game
with increased competition. Philipp Lahm's move to the left is also key
with the captain linking up with Franck Ribery better than he ever
did with Arjen Robben or even Thomas Mueller. Dortmund have conceded just nine
times - the joint-second-best tally in the league - but have looked far less
secure at the back this season
, and with Felipe Santana replacing Neven
Subotic in Munich, are likely to be more porous still.

HOLDING
MIDFIELDERS

Bayern
coach Jupp Heynckes said earlier this season that Bastian Schweinsteiger,
on his day, is the equal of Xavi or Andres Iniesta. Exaggerated perhaps, but
there is no doubt Bayern missed him badly against Augsburg. Heynckes said he
would replace 'Schweini' "one-for-one" and thought David Alaba was the
solution, but the Austrian looked lost, giving the ball away frequently - mistakes
he cannot afford against a brilliant counter-attacking team like Dortmund.

Who plays alongside Sven Bender for the visitors will be important. In Moritz
Leitner
, Dortmund seem to have found a more natural successor to Nuri
Sahin
than Ilkay Guendogan, but Jürgen Klopp may be tempted to go for the experience
of Sebastian Kehl
to give his back four more protection.

ATTACKING
TRIOS

The
reason Klopp can be more conservative is that his attacking players are in
such good form - only Bayern have scored more goals.
Some of their play
against Wolfsburg was breathtaking, and it was particularly pleasing to see
Shinji Kagawa in spell-binding form,
confirming his maiden season success
was no fluke. Expect to see the workmanlike Kevin Grosskreutz on the left
rather than Ivan Perisic
to add industry to Mario Goetze and Kagawa's
inspiration and help keep Bayern's wide man on the right in check, particularly
given Marcel Schmelzer's lack of form. While the hosts' back four and Luiz
Gustavo will need to be on their toes, Dortmund will be fully aware of the
damage Bayern's forward-thinking three can do.
Müller played wonderfully
for Germany against the Netherlands, while Toni Kroos and Ribery look to be
re-discovering their glorious form of yore, though surely Bayern would be
more solid should Kroos drop back alongside Gustavo
and the fit-again Arjen
Robben restored to the starting XI.

LONE
STRIKERS

Mario
Gomez's stats

don't so much speak for themselves, but shout from the rooftops. Twenty
goals in 18 competitive fixtures for Bayern this season is an incredible
return, but the oft-maligned striker has added a work ethic to his game that
has not only made Miroslav Klose and Ivica Olic redundant, but also morphed
him into Bayern's first line of defence.
Heynckes has repeatedly praised
Gomez's work-rate, which when added to his goals leaves little margin for
criticism, while Jogi Loew allowed him to rest rather than train with the
German national team before their game with Ukraine last week, a further
mark of recognition for the ex-Stuttgart man's lung-bursting efforts without
the ball.
Robert Lewandowski has not been quite as prolific, but has
deservedly kept Lucas Barrios out of the Dortmund side. The Pole has built on
the promise shown at Lech Poznan, but still has a little way to go before he
can match Gomez for both goals and work-rate.

Despite
being the league's form team - with 16 points from their last 18 - the sum of
Dortmund's parts still do not add up to Bayern's. The champions have progressed
since last season, notably in terms of the strength in depth in their squad,
but Bayern have improved much more. As Dortmund's own left-back
Marcel Schmelzer recently said: "Bayern know that they're the best team, and so
do we."

Ian
Holyman

Eurosport
2 Bundesliga commentator

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