Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 Champions League final – who’d have picked it?
A few short years ago, the Bundesliga was written off as a league in decline. The defensive strength and tactical discipline that had always been the hallmark of German football seemed lacking, with Bayern battling to maintain their incredibly high standards both domestically and in European competition.
In recent seasons, however, the Bavarian giants have recovered from some hiccups on the home front to stake their claim as the preeminent football force on the continent. Including the upcoming blockbuster at Wembley, they have reached three of the last four Champions League finals – they lost to Inter Milan in 2010 and were beaten on penalties by Chelsea last year.
But it is in 2013 that Bayern have showed the world just how good they really are. They defeated Arsenal in the round of 16; they humbled Juventus in the quarter-finals; and then, the crowning jewel, a 7-0 aggregate victory over mighty Barcelona in the penultimate round. All this, while cruising to a 23rd German title.
The Premier League, Serie A and La Liga – the three most revered leagues in the world, all conquered. But it’s the nature of the wins that has impressed, with Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Thomas Muller providing handy examples of why Deutschland might just boast the most entertaining league in Europe right now.
It also goes a long way to justifying the Bundesliga’s number three ranking in the UEFA coefficient, and that’s not even considering Dortmund’s exploits.
Jurgen Klopp’s men were something of a wildcard heading into the Champions League group stage. Their sudden domestic rise had turned more than a few heads, but many questioned whether they had the star power or experience to make it through a group containing Real Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax – undoubtedly the toughest draw in the competition.
Not only did they survive, but they outperformed the reigning champions of Spain, England and the Netherlands to finish top of the group and establish themselves as the smokies of the tournament. Now, after ending the Galacticos’ campain, they have a chance to repeat their exploits of 1997 when they downed Juventus to lift the cup in Munich.
The refreshing thing about Dortmund is their lack of spending compared to other fast-improving teams. Their success is built on young talent – predominately homegrown in the likes of Mario Gotze, Nuri Sahin and Marco Reus – and good management both on and off the field at Signal Iduna Park.
Whether they can keep this group together remains to be seen. Some stars have already moved on, with Sahin technically owned by Real Madrid (for the time being) and Gotze recently agreeing a deal with Bayern. The hugely prolific Robert Lewandowski is also said to be on the way out, and Klopp has become a perennial candidate for all the top coaching vacancies – including Germany’s national team.
Winning at Wembley would go some way towards convincing certain key players to remain at Westfalenstadion, but either way the Bundesliga’s reputation should finally match the reality: that it is one of the best shows in town and with a little more exposure could become Europe’s top league.