Bayern Munich are embracing the role of underdogs for Saturday’s Bundesliga showdown at leaders Borussia Dortmund with captain Manuel Neuer admitting all is not well with the defending champions.
Bayern have won 10 of their last 19 games against Dortmund, including a 6-0 thrashing of the current league leaders last March when Robert Lewandowski scored a hat-trick against his former club in Munich.
Six months later, third-placed Bayern trail Dortmund by four points in the table and struggling for form under coach Niko Kovac.
In the wake of a 2-0 defeat at Hertha Berlin and a 3-0 upset at home to Moenchengladbach – with Bayern out-played in both league games – the Bavarian giants have laboured to beat even limited teams in recent weeks.
“We are not the ‘Super-Bayern’ that everyone knows and aren’t setting off fireworks with our performances,” admitted Neuer after Wednesday’s laboured 2-0 win over AEK on Wednesday in the Champions League.
Even Bayern president Uli Hoeness sees the Bavarians as “underdogs” at Dortmund, a notion the hosts reject.
“We’ve heard what has been said, but we don’t care – we are just enjoying the situation,” said Dortmund’s director of sport Michael Zorc on Thursday.
“It doesn’t make much sense to compare (Dortmund with Bayern) – they have won the last six Bundesliga titles.”
Unrest in Munich
On paper, there is little cause for concern from Bayern’s perspective.
They trail Dortmund by only four points and on the verge of the Champions League knock-out stages, topping their group with 10 points.
Yet frustrating recent performances tell a different story with rumours of unrest in the dressing room.
Senior players Thomas Mueller, Mats Hummels, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery are reportedly not behind Kovac – a toxic situation for any head coach at Bayern.
Ex-Bayern and Germany legend Lothar Matthaeus believes Saturday’s match can make – or break – Kovac’s tenure.
“A victory there and all Bayern fans would conjure up a smile again,” said Matthaeus, 57, who sees a “great chance” for Bayern to “reassert themselves and silence a few critical voices”.
However, defeat would leave Bayern seven points behind Dortmund – a near-unthinkable situation for Hoeness – with Matthaeus warning Kovac is effectively “not allowed to lose with his team in Dortmund”.
Thomas Mueller expects an electric atmosphere at Dortmund in front of an 81,000 sell-out crowd.
“We will have to torture ourselves a bit,” said the Germany midfielder.
“Dortmund are in a phase and playing refreshing football going forward.
“We have to keep up and not let the gap grow.”
The goals could flow with Dortmund striker Paco Alcacer scoring seven goals in his first four league games on loan from Barcelona.
Likewise, Lewandowski has scored 12 goals in his 15 games against Dortmund, who he left on a free transfer in 2014.
Both teams are waiting on key players.
Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Buerki picked up a knock in Tuesday’s 2-0 defeat at Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.
Bayern winger Arjen Robben trained individually on Thursday as he recovers from a knee injury.
Bayern will head north determined to claim a third straight win at Dortmund after last November’s 3-1 away league win and penalty shoot-out victory in the pre-season German Super Cup in August 2017.
“We are four points behind and of course we want to be top – we will come back, you can all be sure of that,” warned Mueller.