Preview – Champions League Final

by James Hunt

Champions League TrophyThere will be no goodbye from Mario Gotze, as the midfielder is ruled out of the Champions League final against his club-to-be Bayern Munich.

Perhaps it is better this way. Parting is such sweet sorrow, and the loss of their favoured son to one of their biggest rivals is particularly sorrowful for Dortmund fans, in this tale of star-crossed-clubs.

He is their darling-turned-devil, the public face of the club, the titles and the future, now public enemy no.1. Like Peter Pan abandoning his Lost Boys, and joining forces with Captain Hook.

Gotze has faced some hostility from his own fans since it was announced he was joining Bayern, after the Bavarian giants activated his release clause. With this being their biggest game not just of the season, but their biggest since 1997, it could be a positive his not being on the pitch, if it means unequivocal support in the stands.

It also means no split loyalties. No doubt Gotze is an extremely professional player, who would give his all no matter what, but surely playing in such a massive game – the biggest club game in the world – against your future employers would have some bearing on your state-of-mind and performance, even ignoring the fact the German is only 20-years-old.

In terms of Dortmund’s line-up, while they have struggled without Gotze this season – one win from six league games without him; he missed only one Champions League match – it’s worth remembering that he did not play a part in the most comprehensive win over Bayern. That also came in a final, as they demolished Munich 5-2 to win the DFB-Pokal.

Both sides are different now – certainly Bayern are a lot stronger – and while Saturday’s game will likely be a far tighter affair – their four meetings this season have contributed the same number of goals as that cup final – but Dortmund will know they can still get a result.

One option will be to replace Gotze with Kevin Grosskreutz. What the winger lacks in technical ability he makes up for in effort, as evidenced by his popularity amongst the Schwarzgelben faithful. It doesn’t hurt, either, that he’s a boyhood Dortmund fan who will have dreamed of such a moment as this since he was a child.

Assuming he would play on the left, it would mean a more central role of Marco Reus – which wouldn’t be a bad thing, given the impact and influence he is capable of having – while Grosskreutz’s work-rate could prove vital in helping counter the threat posed by Philipp Lahm and Arjen Robben down the right-hand side.

The alternative would be to play Ilkay Gundogan further forward, in the ‘number 10’ role. While he’s primarily played deeper in midfield, he has shown – most notably against Real Madrid – that he has the passing ability and composure under pressure to ensure a smooth transition to a more advanced role, not dissimilar to that of Toni Kroos at their opponents.

This would likely mean club captain Sebastian Kehl coming into the midfield. He would bring experience and leadership to a youthful side, which could be invaluable on such an occasion. Whether, at 33, he is still able to compete in such a big match with Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez, however, remains to be seen.

Undoubtedly, Dortmund are not stronger with Gotze, and they’d much rather have him in the side on last time. But this way, at least, they won’t have to say goodbye. Because saying goodbye means going away, and going away means forgetting.

On Saturday night, it’s time for Dortmund to grow up.

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