Vulnerable Dortmund go to Bayern Munich to end Bundesliga slump

Erratic Borussia Dortmund will try to summon Champions League enthusiasm for Bundesliga match with Bayern Munich

Borussia Dortmund have had little to celebrate on the domestic front this season. Christian Charisius / AFP Photo
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The most bipolar club in Europe right now are Borussia Dortmund. Put them on the Champions League stage and they puff out their chests and blow away the opposition. Against Galatasaray next week, Dortmund could secure their progress to the next phase of the competition, well ahead of schedule. They would be disappointed if they so much as concede a goal, or if they score fewer than three.

In European fixtures, the 2013 Champions League finalists boast a fortress defence and formidable firepower: three games played, wins so far over Arsenal, Anderlecht and Galatasaray, no goals conceded and nine scored.

In their domestic league, however, the 2011 and 2012 German champions suddenly wither. Dortmund take on Bayern Munich Saturday no longer the most muscular pursuers of Bayern’s juggernaut, the role they have been cast into the past two seasons. Instead, they are a club in danger of slipping into the relegation zone.

Defeat would mean a fourth successive Bundesliga loss. A yield of seven points from 10 games so far represents their worst start to a campaign since the turn of the millennium.

How to interpret this slump, and the peculiar schizophrenia that lurches between bullish swagger in contests against foreign teams and slipshod errors against compatriots?

One theory is that Dortmund’s trademark counter-attacking style is better suited to the Champions League, to playing teams less familiar with their ambush strategies. Another is that, like the other 16 Bundesliga clubs who are not Bayern Munich, Dortmund have become reconciled to the fact domestic competitions are beyond their grasp, and they subconsciously concentrate their best efforts elsewhere.

That attitude has certainly not been apparent in the lead-up to this afternoon’s trip to the Allianz Arena.

“Bayern matches often bring the best out of us,” said Sebastian Kehl, the long-serving midfield player. “And if we play a compact game, and have a little luck, we have a chance.”

Kehl’s scrapbook contains plenty of wins over Bayern recorded in its recent pages. Even in the 18 months since Bayern edged Dortmund 2-1 in the European Cup final at Wembley, and Pep Guardiola took over as coach of the Bavarian club, Dortmund have won three of the five meetings across competitions.

It is as much a grudge match as ever. Dortmund are now in the habit of losing a key player to their voracious domestic rivals each summer.

Mario Gotze, once beloved at the Westfalen arena, is more and more at home at the Allianz and went into the weekend the division’s top scorer; Robert Lewandowski will face his old employers in a Bundesliga match for the first time Saturday. His spearhead qualities and goals were bound to be missed by Dortmund. “We need to start scoring more in the league,” Kehl said.

The job of filling Lewandowski’s boots is principally assigned to summer signings Ciro Immobile and Adrian Ramos, but they have two goals each, so far.

Jurgen Klopp, the Dortmund coach, may elect to play Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who has three goals, in the central forward position, to see how his pace can examine Bayern’s defence. Some of the injury problems that have contributed to Dortmund’s slip-ups are easing. Ilkay Gundogan, the influential midfielder who has been out long-term, could play some part at Bayern.

Klopp is under little pressure. His six years in charge have been thrilling and rejuvenating. He has been a clever alchemist in the face of raids on Dortmund’s best players and a fine motivator of men.

But, by and large, the rest of the Bundesliga know what they will get when they meet a Klopp team. For all the vigour and verve of Dortmund’s best football, they rarely have looked, in the league, as vulnerable as they do now.