Going into the fifth match of their Champions League campaign, the four German clubs ought to be full of confidence.
The national team, fresh from a record-breaking 36-goal haul in World Cup qualifying, had much the better of their 1-1 draw with Italy in Milan, and their reserves then made England look like amateurs at Wembley.
European champions Bayern Munich are once again riding high, already qualified for the knockout stage and now seven points clear of chief Bundesliga rivals Borussia Dortmund.
Yet with the two flagships steaming ahead, the rest of the fleet have been stuttering, and the irony is that Dortmund are in danger of running aground because of injuries to key men during the international break.
Germany manager Joachim Löw took the opportunity of two friendlies to ring the changes, particularly in defence. Bayern’s men were rested, Dortmund’s played.
All of a sudden, Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp found himself without a first-choice defence, Mats Hummels and Marcel Schmelzer joining Serbian centre-back Neven Subotic on the sidelines — Subotic had suffered a bad cruciate injury earlier this month.
The injuries could not have come at a worse time for Klopp and his team, in the wake of two successive defeats against Arsenal and Wolfsburg. Going into Saturday’s decisive match at home to Bayern, Klopp was forced to turn to one of his former players, Manuel Friedrich, now a free agent, to help provide a makeshift defence.
Remarkably Dortmund gave as good as they got for more than an hour against Bayern, but you could sense their energy levels were dropping. Pep Guardiola turned the screw at just the right moment, bringing on former Dortmund hero Mario Götze to a deafening chorus of hate from the home fans.
Inevitably Götze fired home the goal that broke Dortmund’s resistance, finishing off a sweeping counter-attack with an angled ground shot from the edge of the area. Cruelly Bayern then finished off their opponents with two lightning counters in the last five minutes.
So Dortmund go into their crucial Champions League tie against Napoli on the back of three defeats and without an established defence, a big boost for the Italians, and a much-needed one, as defeats against Juventus and at home to Parma have damaged their own morale. Napoli only need a point from their visit to Germany tonight whereas Dortmund have to win. It is a match where the European experience of Rafael Benitez will have to compensate for the rawness of some of his players and the absence of their captain Marek Hamsik.
Klopp insists that the “unfair” 3-0 defeat against Bayern will not have a bearing on the game: “I told the lads after the match I was giving them five minutes to get over their depression and then we go forward.”
Unlike Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen are going into their match against Manchester United in an upbeat mood. Their 1-0 win at the weekend put them into second place in the Bundesliga, four points behind the leaders.
From the German point of view, a big question is how their main striker Stefan Kiessling performs without the support of Sidney Sam, injured on Saturday. Kiessling, and Leverkusen, have a good scoring record this season. Until the weekend, they had matched Bayern — although Kiessling’s header that beat Hoffenheim was outrageous as the ‘ghost goal’ actually went in via the side netting. Kiessling’s celebration, albeit slightly shamefaced, did not endear him to the public. He had to deactivate his Facebook account as a result of the abuse.
At least he doesn’t have to worry about being injured playing for the national side. Löw has continued to overlook him, despite his goals: 25 in 34 league games last season when he was the Bundesliga’s top scorer.
The visit of United is a challenge he’s looking forward to and likewise his manager Sami Hyypiä, no doubt keen to upset an old rival.
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