Six-Shooting the UCL Final: Westphalia or Bavaria?

"It's on!" say Thomas Mueller and Felipe Santana. (Photo:  Wolfgang Rattay, Reuters)

“It’s on!” say Thomas Mueller and Felipe Santana. (Photo: Wolfgang Rattay, Reuters)

Expect intensity between the Rühr and the raiders

By Michael Ligot, Bundesliga Columnist

LONDON — In 2008, it was England boasting two Champions League finalists. This time, it’s Germany’s turn in the English capital.

Bundesliga champion Bayern Munich and twice-previous champions Borussia Dortmund face off at Wembley Stadium Saturday for European club soccer’s championship. Dortmund won the whole enchilada in 1997 over Juventus, its only appearance to date. Bayern, who had a mid-1970s three-peat, last won in 2001 over Valencia, but lost two of the last three titles, in games they dominated but couldn’t put away. And then there’s that 1999 injury time debacle against Manchester United …

For those unfamiliar with the Bundesliga, a glance at this year’s results between the two provides no guidance for prediction; both finished as 1-1 draws, including a carefully played game in the Rühr when both teams knew they’d be meeting in British postal code HA9.

That’s where we come in.

Here are six things to look for during the big game (11:45 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time, Fox TV):

1) Both teams can score. Don’t be surprised by a blowout or shootout. Bayern set records left and right with an astounding season (91 points? Plus-80 goal difference? Just one loss? Never shut out?). Don’t forget, though, that Dortmund has had two terrific years itself. Their 81 points in 2011-12 was a German record that should have stood for more than one year, and their 81 goals this year was downright frightening, especially in a league that plays just 34 games a season.

2) In Wembley will “Kuba” kann / A stately championship decree? With all of the firepower these two teams have, it’s quite easy to overlook Dortmund’s Polish midfielder Jakub “Kuba” Blaszczykowski. In support of striker and countryman Robert Lewandowski’s 24 goals, Blaszczykowski chipped in 11 goals and ten assists in only 23 games. Although Phillip Lahm, Daniel van Buyten and company on Munich’s defense will focus on the Marco Reus-to-Lewandowski combination (see below), they can’t afford to forget about the man who’s good enough to boast 60 caps for Poland.

Only one of Klopp and Heynckes will be this happy Saturday night. (Photo:

Only one of Klopp (l.) and Heynckes will be this happy Saturday night. (Photo:

3) This time, it’s personal. Though the Bundesliga is easily the most balanced major league in Europe, financially and trophy-wise, Bayern Munich is the unquestioned German giant, and they’re not afraid to bully their way with their checkbook. Amongst their recent transaction victims? Saturday’s opponent, Dortmund.

Last month they signed Borussia midfielder Mario Götze for a German record 37 million euros, and word got out that Lewandowski’s agents will attend Munich’s post-match party. Awwwkkkk-ward. Götze is out injured, but I’d love to hear how Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp will play this chip-on-shoulder card up with his team … and Lewandowski.

They are clear underdogs with bookies like Unibet having Bayern as strong favourites with Dortmund almost at 4.8 to win in 90 minutes.

Red and gold, head-to-head; it doesn't get any better than this. (Photo:  Reuters)

Red and gold, head-to-head; it doesn’t get any better than this. (Photo: Reuters)

4) Who rules midfield, Ríbery or Reus? With Götze and Munich’s Toni Kroos out, attention will focus on Bayern’s Franck Ribery and Dortmund’s Marco Reus as the midfield playmakers.

Frenchman Ríbery outperformed his counterpart in the Bundesliga (ten goals and league-best 14 assists versus Reus’ 13 goals and nine assists), but the German did better in the Champions League (four goals, two assists vs. one goal, two assists).

5) Roman Weidenfeller vs. the Bavarian Bombers. If it weren’t for Manuel Neuer, Weidenfeller would be the number-one choice between the German national team’s sticks. As it is, he’s made a very nice career for himself as Dortmund’s main choice since 2006. But for him and not his Nationalmannschaft rival to lift the giant-eared trophy, he’s got to stop the scariest club attack in recent memory.

You’re talking about a Bayern group that fell just two goals short of 100. Mats Hummels, one-time U.S. youth product Neven Subotic and like on the Borussia back line need to be on their game against a team that can roll out four double-digit scorers (Mario Mandzukic, Thomas Müller, Mario Gomez, Ríbery).

6) Arjen Robben:  A lot to prove. The Dutch midfielder has had an excellent career for club (95 goals in 12 seasons) and country (17 goals in 55 Netherlands matches). Unfortunately for him, the last three years have treated him roughly.

Several injuries, the 2010 World Cup final debacle, and a missed penalty in last year’s Champions League final against ex-club Chelsea that Bayern should have blown out. And that wasn’t his only penalty disaster:  His miss in a 2012 late-season showdown at Dortmund resulted in a Munich loss that effectively sealed the title for Borussia and got him a goading earful from Dortmund’s Subotic. Wouldn’t he love to turn the tables and bellow into the Serbian’s ear Saturday?

Prediction:  Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli will give cards if he has to (24 in his four UCL games this season), but he won’t make game-changing calls unless he really has to (just three reds and four penalties in 22 career UCL games). So the players will have free reign.

And they’ll produce. Mario Mandzukic and — surprise! — Dortmund’s unsung Ilkay Gündogan will cancel each other out, but high-powered supersub  Gomez (11 goals in only 21 games and 10 starts) will be the difference.

Jupp Heynckes heads into retirement banishing Bayern’s Champions League ghosts of Inter and Chelsea, and incoming coach Pep Guardiola has one heck of an act to follow next year.

Prediction: Bayern 2-1.

More Champions League

CL Preview — 10 Reasons Why German Football is Succeeding

Sounders FC’s Germans and Austrians Preview the Final

Hubert’s Hub: German Sides have Added Flair to Pragmatism

What exactly is a Borussia anyway?


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