The Bundesliga returns after the international in the biggest bang possible, with the second Klassiker of the season between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, and the stakes could be high.
Depending on results elsewhere though, Bayern could seal the title, with Dortmund looking to spoil their party and solidify their own place in the top four.
The form book is probably in Bayern’s favour, although with Michy Batshuayi in fine form since his arrival, Dortmund will be quietly confident of springing a surprise.
Robben hoping to seal the title at home
Bayern could have won their sixth-consecutive Bundesliga title two weeks’ ago, but they needed Schalke 04 and Dortmund to slip up before then beating RB Leipzig. None of those things happened, with both Ruhr clubs winning and Leipzig coming from behind to record their first ever victory over Bayern.
Only Schalke and Dortmund harbour any real mathematical hope of toppling Bayern, as fanciful a scenario as that may be. They can only wrap up the title this weekend though if Schalke fail to beat SC Freiburg early in the day, and would then need to go on to beat Dortmund. Any other scenario would leave them having to wait another week, with a UEFA Champions League game against Sevilla to worry about, before having yet another chance when they make the short trip to FC Augsburg next week.
Incredibly, none of Bayern’s five previous back-to-back titles have been sealed at home, something they haven’t actually done since 2000, when on the final day they famously overtook Bayer Leverkusen, beaten by Bayern’s neighbours SpVgg Unterhaching, as they won against Werder Bremen.
For that reason, Arjen Robben told the club’s website that “if I could pick the time, naturally I’d go for Saturday.” Jupp Heynckes meanwhile just sees the game as "the beginning of the decisive phase" of the season, with two games a week set to become a regular occurrence as they keep fighting on all three fronts.
As for Dortmund, they will also be hoping great rivals Schalke slip up to give them the chance of moving ahead of them with the Revierderby coming up in a couple of weeks. Coach Peter Stöger has said that they are “hoping and aiming to become the second-best team” again behind Bayern, but they have “not yet achieved that.”
A formidable task for Dortmund
The defeat to Leipzig was just Bayern’s second, in all competitions, since Heynckes returned as coach in October, the other coming against Borussia Mönchengladbach. In fact the only other points they have dropped under the 72-year-old were in the goalless draw against Hertha BSC at the end of February. In fact in his time back at the Allianz Arena, they’ve turned a five-point deficit on Dortmund into an eye-watering 18-point lead.
However Dortmund have been in relatively good form recently too. Although doubts remain over the long-term future of Stöger, he has not lost a Bundesliga match since leaving 1. FC Köln, winning seven of 12 games, including both of the last two. The only domestic defeat he has overseen was in the humbling display at Bayern in the DFB-Pokal in December, when only a late Andriy Yarmolenko goal had given them some hope late on.
In fact Bayern have beaten them twice this season, with the 3-1 win at Signal Iduna Park coming as the Peter Bosz-era was beginning to crash to an abrupt halt. Dortmund’s record against them though has remained comparatively good since winning five-in-a-row leading up to the completion of their 2012 double, although most of their six Klassiker wins come with mitigating factors.
Of the three at home, last season’s 1-0 win at home was the sole meaningful Bundesliga victory, with two other DFB-Supercup victories to boot. In Munich, this fixture last year finished in a thumping 4-1 win for Bayern, although they went on to beat them in the DFB-Pokal later that April. As well as another cup win, on penalties in 2015, with their only league win there in this time being a 3-0 victory when the 2013-14 Bundesliga title had already been wrapped up by what was then Pep Guardiola’s side.
Vidal, Bernat, Reus and Toprak out
Bayern received a massive boost this week with Manuel Neuer returning to training having been out since September with a metatarsal injury. This game comes far too soon though, and Sven Ulreich will continue in goal. Kingsley Coman remains the only other long-term absentee, but Arturo Vidal (thigh) and Juan Bernat (ankle) are also out of the match.
Jérôme Boateng is available though, despite picking up an injury for Germany against Brazil on Tuesday. Niklas Süle could come in if Heynckes decide not to take any risks, especially with the Sevilla game coming up, but he has insisted that will not be a factor in his team selection. Expect to see most of the big guns in attack then, although at least one of Thomas Müller, James Rodríguez, Franck Ribéry and Robben would probably have to miss out.
Dan-Axel Zagadou, Erik Durm, Sebastian Rode, Shinji Kagawa and Yarmolenko all remain out for Dortmund, who are also likely to be without Ömer Toprak and Marco Reus. Toprak has muscular problems, whilst Reus, who missed Germany’s friendlies during the international break, has an adductor problem.
Sokratis and Manuel Akanji are their only fit centre-backs, however Stöger is unconcerned as he “really likes” them as a pair. Gonzalo Castro and Mahmoud Dahoud will likely play in the holding roles with Julian Weigl out of sorts, whilst Christian Pulisic is expected to play alongside Mario Götze and André Schürrle further forward in Reus’s absence, although Maximilian Philipp is another option.
Batshuayi will lead the line for them, and will hope to add to the six goals in seven Bundesliga games that he has for them since joining on loan from Chelsea, whilst he also scored on international duty for Belgium. However at the other end, Robert Lewandowski has scored seven times in his last seven games against his former club.
Bayern Munich: (4-2-3-1) Ulreich; Kimmich, Boateng, Hummels, Alaba; Martínez, Thiago; Robben, Müller, Ribéry; Lewandowski.
Borussia Dortmund: (4-2-3-1) Bürki; Piszczek, Sokratis, Akanji, Schmelzer; Castrol, Dahoud; Pulisic, Götze, Schürrle; Batshuayi.
Quotes via Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.