Bundesliga’s Dortmund-Bayern title fight unmatched in Europe

Football

It’s often said the German language has a compound word for absolutely everything, and of course that maxim applies to the scenario we have in store for us Saturday.

The word “Fernduell” (a long-distance duel) is a universally understood concept in Germany. It’s a contest involving two teams competing for the same thing and playing at the same time but in different venues. Maybe the English language should just adopt the word as it has done with Gegenpressing considering no such exact equivalent exists!

Saturday’s Fernduell promises to be in keeping with the excitement Bundesliga followers have lapped up for many a long weeks now. The events of last weekend, with Bayern Munich losing 3-1 at home to a highly motivated RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund taking care of FC Augsburg 3-0 away in the Fuggerstadt, means BVB hold the cards — again. With just one game to go, Dortmund will be crowned champions with a win, while a loss or a draw will open the door to an 11th straight crown for Bayern.

Dortmund-Mainz, Saturday at 9:30 a.m. ET, ESPN+
Cologne-Bayern, Saturday at 9:30 a.m. ET, ESPN+
Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

Since March, the pendulum has swung almost violently back and forth between Germany’s big two, with neither side able to pull away from the other, both experiencing ups and downs and anticipation levels generally off the charts. There have been eight changes at the top of the Bundesliga table this season, with these two swapping positions four times in the past nine weeks.

No other top league has been able to offer this level of uncertainty and unpredictability. Sorry, Premier League fans who insist on telling me only riveting things happen in that league. It’s not even close this term.

Commentating for the Bundesliga world feed last week in Munich, even when Bayern took the lead against Leipzig through Serge Gnabry, there was doubt in my mind as to whether it was portent of a crucial win to come for the Rekordmeister. On air, I almost unconsciously added the qualifying word “maybe” to the question, “another step towards the Meisterschale?” Bayern were the better side for 30 minutes, but the wobbles crept in thereafter, conceding a pair of penalties and a logic-defying four-on-one counterattack that led to the visitors’ opening goal. Leipzig, who needed a win to secure Champions League football, deserved their first-ever triumph at the Allianz Arena against the Bavarians.

The next day, 60 miles along the Autobahn, Dortmund, backed by a loud and vibrant away support, had to wait 58 minutes for their opening goal. That despite a season-high 17 first-half goal attempts playing with a one-player advantage from the 38th minute onward.

That they were twice denied by the aluminium (what English speakers refer to as “the woodwork”) only added to the general nervousness. But Sebastien Haller‘s strike to give the visitors a 1-0 lead settled everyone down, and it was no surprise when he bagged a second before Julian Brandt put the game to bed.

Now Dortmund are just 90 minutes away from their first Meisterschale in 11 yawning years. On one level, the Schwarzgelben, who will host Mainz on Saturday (9:30 a.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+) before a crowd of 81,000 at the Signal Iduna Park, need not worry at all about what Bayern are doing at the same time at FC Cologne (stream live on ESPN+). A BVB win will render that irrelevant. However, imagine if Bayern score first and then add a goal or two before BVB have managed to get off the mark. Or if Dortmund fall behind against Mainz.

This is the Fernduell tension in all its glory. Dortmund and Bayern might be on different pitches this weekend, but mentally, psychologically, it’s still a two-team race for the crown. Expect multiple showings on broadcasts of the Blitztabelle (the live, as it stands, table).

BVB are undoubtedly favourites to take the title now, and it seems a bit like 2002 to me. That year, the Schwarzgelben caught longtime leaders Bayer Leverkusen on the penultimate matchday, when the Werkself lost in Nürnberg and Dortmund won in Hamburg.

Then on the final day, with Dortmund in control of the board at home against Werder Bremen, there was edginess when they fell behind while Leverkusen forged ahead. All was finally settled on 74 minutes, though, with Brazilian attacker Ewerthon, who had just come on, netting the decisive goal of the season. BVB finished a point ahead of Leverkusen.

Bayern fans might hang their hats on what occurred a year earlier, the famous Patrik Andersson afternoon. Schalke 04, who had beaten Unterhaching, were champions-elect for four minutes, with their game over and everyone in Gelsenkirchen waiting to see if Bayern, losing 1-0 in Hamburg well into stoppage time, would hand them the Meisterschale.

However, Andersson’s strike from an indirect free kick in the 94th minute burst Schalke’s bubble, entering Bayern and Bundesliga folklore and securing a 17th league title for the Bavarian giants.

Saturday is going to be about pure emotion. Dortmund coach Edin Terzic summed it up nicely by saying that while his players are very well paid and can buy a new house or a new car, you can’t buy moments like this: a chance to become Bundesliga champions in front of their own fans.

The home form speaks for Dortmund. The Schwarzgelben have, after all, reeled off 11 successive home victories in the Bundesliga and last failed to win in the league at the Signal Iduna Park when they drew 2-2 with Bayern on Oct. 8.

If you think everything is now a foregone conclusion for Dortmund, though, just consider the remarkable trajectory of the past few weeks.

I’ll be commentating for international viewers live from the Cologne-Bayern game and can’t wait to be part of a special day in Bundesliga history. I hope you can join in the Fernduell fun on Saturday amid an unmatched atmosphere.

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