Dort­mund show­down may be Ko­vac’s last chance with Bay­ern

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FOOTBALL -

DORT­MUND: Bay­ern Mu­nich are em­brac­ing the role of un­der­dogs for Sat­ur­day’s Bun­desliga show­down at league 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 hat­trick against his for­mer club.

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 la­bored 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,” Neuer ad­mit­ted af­ter Wed­nes­day’s la­bored 2-0 win over AEK Wed­nes­day in the Cham­pi­ons League group stage.

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,” Dort­mund’s di­rec­tor of sport Michael Zorc said Thurs­day.

“It doesn’t make much sense to com­pare [Dort­mund with Bay­ern] – they have won the last six Bun­desliga ti­tles.”

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 knock­out stages, top­ping their group with 10 points.

Yet frus­trat­ing re­cent per­for­mances tell a dif­fer­ent story with ru­mors of dress­ing room un­rest.

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 that 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,” the Ger­many mid­fielder said.

“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 still 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 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 shootout vic­tory in the pre­sea­son Ger­man Su­per Cup in Au­gust 2017.

“We are four points be­hind and of course we want to be top

There have been ru­mors that key play­ers are not be­hind coach Ko­vac.

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