Matt Dunham/AP/Press Association Images

No argument over favourites tag in chase for 'greatest cup of all'

The Champions League finalists have had contrasting journeys to this point, writes Miguel Delaney.

FOR JUPP HEYNCKES and most other people, a game of such dimensions is still all quite simple. If Bayern Munich play to their general ability, they win.

At present, it’s difficult to disagree. Jurgen Klopp couldn’t.

“We have to play to our utmost or we don’t stand a chance.”

Up until now, Bayern have produced the best season ever seen in European football, breaking virtually every domestic division record and apparently confirming their rise with that crushing victory over Barcelona. As the notably spiky Thomas Muller purred in the pre-game press conference, it’s hard to say “whether there’s a weakness there”.

Make no mistake. This is now undeniably the best team in Europe. Bayern would be the worthiest of champions, fulfilling the competition’s main aim of crowning the continent’s finest side.

The very fact that doesn’t always happen, though, is the point. Bayern also know better than anyone else capricious nature of knock-out finals, which was something the charismatic Klopp made sure to reference in his own way beforehand.

Both Muller and Philipp Lahm typically attempted to spin that into a positive. They believe the experiences of 2010 and, especially, 2012 will actually help mentally complete the team for the long-awaited culmination of a cycle. That it’s all been building to this final deliverance. Again, it’s hard to disagree. Bayern’s rise from a psychologically fragile outfit to the most commanding and imposing in Europe has been as stealthy as it has strident.

“I think last year’s final won’t have a negative impact on tomorrow, only a positive one because we’re motivated,” Muller said. “We’ll be more attentive in our actions than in a standard scenario.”

This, however, isn’t a standard Champions League final. It’s a showdown between two sides from the same country that, even unlike Real Madrid-Valencia in 2000 or Manchester United-Chelsea in 2008, comes at a genuinely important juncture in their rivalry.

Coded message

The details of the last two domestic seasons prove that. The transfer of Mario Goetze personifies it.

Bayern can either fully display their unmatchable strength in German football or Borussia Dortmund can again expose that lasting weakness on the most exacting occasion. That’s what it comes down to.

It will either be the ultimate victory or the ultimate response.

It was also something Dortmund’s Sebastien Kehl emphasised on the eve of the game, with a potentially coded message to Robert Lewandowski too.

“Of course it would be fantastic if we did manage [to win], just to show the players who think they might like to go down to Munich they’d be missing out on something.”

That “something”, however, is the key.

Or, as Klopp put it, “the other story”.

“Our possible success is not based on the idea of spoiling things for Bayern,” Kehl added. “It’s just the biggest opportunity we’ve had so far in our lives as a team. We’re going to go into that match and win the cup, regardless of what the other side might stand to lose.

“We can go for this greatest cup of all. This is the most fantastic story in the world.”

His manager elaborated on the manner Dortmund have gone from the brink of bankruptcy to the greatest prize in the space of a decade.

“Along comes a club that is pretty good as well, and has a pretty big following. The stadium could have been turned into a monument, but thanks to a few decisions from some clever people, it has risen from the ashes. That’s a good story.

“We just have to take different decisions.”


They’ve also taken a different route. Because, as callow as Dortmund may seem in comparison to Bayern and as much as the Goetze business encapsulates the different philosophies and directions of the club, the thoroughly fresh approach of Klopp’s side has actually forged a rather traditional path to this final.

In the era of mega-rich super clubs either using the triumph to complete trebles or just compensate for domestic blips, Dortmund have done things like in the days of the old European Cup. They’ve won their title and gradually matured before pouring everything into the pursuit of the highest prize. They would be equally worthy winners in their own way. Even if they are not the best team on the continent, they have illustrated that potential to be. As such, it feels as much of a natural progression towards this point as Bayern’s.

Except, in contrast to the manner Heynckes’s side have surged to the final, Dortmund have suffered. There was the late desperation against Malaga and the late defiance against Real Madrid.

After that, it would be difficult for them not to feel the same sense of destiny as Bayern.

“That’s why it’s a very special relationship and why it’s a bit more emotional for us,” Klopp said,” compared with a situation where success is pretty normal.”

Heynckes has a word with Robben. Mike Egerton/EMPICS Sport

That sense of destiny, though, is only as important as the degree to which it imposes on the fine details of the game; whether such belief lifts players to higher performance. The feeling, after the past season, is that Dortmund will actually need it more given the gap that has grown between the teams.

Toe to toe

Reflecting that, Klopp has been the manager who has had to adjust his tactics in the last few meetings. Although both sides now play a similar pressing approach, if not quite to the same passing excellency as Barcelona, Dortmund know that going toe to toe could mean their aspirations being terminated.

Klopp acknowledged this, but gave no clues as to how he would reshape the team in the absence of the injured Goetze.

“We’ll probably have to stretch ourselves but it remains our tactical intention to bring them down to our level. Then we can beat them. We’ve always had to do more than Bayern Munich if we’ve wanted to win matches against them.”

And then the sign-off, the one thing we know for certain about this game.

“They’ve got their way. We’ve got our way.”

Either way, the rest of Europe has a genuinely momentous final in store.

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