Saturday, 23 November 2013


Munich - It's the game of the season so far, in the Bundesliga without a shadow of a doubt and very possibly anywhere else in Europe: Saturday's Matchday 13 meeting of second-place Borussia Dortmund and league leaders FC Bayern München (kick-off 18:30 CET).
The run-up to this mouth-watering reunion of the 2013 UEFA Champions League finalists has been dominated by one topic above all over the past few days, namely the hosts' current personnel crisis at the back. Bayern did not come through the international break unscathed either, with talismanic wing wizard Franck Ribery ruled out after breaking a rib helping France secure a last-gasp ticket to next summer's FIFA World Cup finals in Brazil. Still, one man's injury is another's opportunity and has the readjusted lowdown on some of the likely key duels in Saturday's Klassiker at the Signal Iduna Park.

Weidenfeller vs. Neuer

First up, naturally enough, the goalkeepers. Between the posts for the hosts, Roman Weidenfeller (l.) is fresh from making his Germany debut at the ripe old age of 33 and keeping a clean sheet at Wembley against England into the bargain. The BVB shot-stopper has been consistently at the top of his game for years, but Bayern's Manuel Neuernonetheless remains the non plus ultra of German keepers and is widely regarded as one of the world's best no1's. On the stats front, Weidenfeller has blocked exactly two-thirds of all attempts on his goal and been beaten eleven times in the league, while Neuer has kept out a shade under 78 percent of the efforts on his net and conceded just seven goals to date.

Sokratis vs. Mandzukic

Signed from SV Werder Bremen over the summer to give Dortmund added strength-in-depth at the back, Sokratis (l.) may well find himself thrust into the role of defensive coordinator against the European champions. The tough-tackling Greece international is well used to taking responsibility in pressure situations and unlikely to be fazed by either the occasion or the physical attributes of Mario Mandzukic, who has himself bagged eight goals for Bayern already this season in the Bundesliga alone. Both men helped their respective countries qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals in Brazil via the play-offs earlier this week - Mandzukic picking up first a goal then a red card for Croatia against Iceland.
Großkreutz vs. Götze

Kevin Großkreutz (l.) could well be the member of Dortmund's patchwork defence who finds himself most often in close proximity to his former club mate Mario Götze. Black and Yellow to the core, Großkreutz has turned out for his hometown team in just about every position conceivable - emergency keeper included! Against Bayern, he may be deployed at left back where on recent evidence he would likely be up against Götze. The former BVB star has been looking ever more assured in a right-sided midfield berth and now seems to be returning to peak condition after his compound injury problems - but how will he fare back at his old stomping ground for the first time in a Bayern shirt?

Sahin vs. Kroos

One of the pivotal tussles in the engine room could be that between Nuri Sahin (l.) and Toni Kroos. Since returning from Real Madrid CF last winter on a long-term loan deal, Sahin has gradually reestablished the form that made him such an integral part of BVB's 2011 title-winning team. The locally-born Turkey international has been a first-team fixture this season and a deadly finish is just one feature of his all-round midfield game - as Bayern know to their cost from past experience. Kroos has likewise been a regular starter under Pep Guardiola in variant midfield roles and will be looking forward to testing his mettle against an old adversary again.

Mkhitaryan vs. Martinez

Henrikh Mkhitaryan (l.) is Dortmund's new attacking midfielder par excellence. The summer arrival has scored three goals and laid on six more in ten Bundesliga outings this season, but the bald statistics don't give the full picture of such feats as the diagonal pitch-length run that set up BVB's third goal at FC Schalke. The Armenia international's form is on the rise after a few initial teething problems, injury included, with five of those assists coming in the last three games alone. Spain's Javi Martinez has only started twice so far for Bayern, but he has been Guardiola's holding midfielder of choice since recovering from a wearisome early-season injury and could well prove Mkhitaryan's toughest Bundesliga opponent to date.

Lewandowski vs. Dante

The current league top scorer on nine goals and so much more besides: Robert Lewandowski (l.) is the man spearheading the Bundesliga's most prolific frontline and Dante is the man directly charged with keeping tabs on him on Saturday. Dortmund's Polish goalgetter has been involved in close-on 80 attempts on goal all-told and will happily put them away himself with either foot, or his head. Dante is in charge of the meanest defence in the league - they have leaked just seven goals so far - but is duly gearing up for what promises to be one of the season's busier shifts.

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