When Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern München go head to head in the first all-German UEFA Champions League final, it will mark the high point in a rivalry which has become as fierce as any in Europe.
Affronted by two years of Dortmund's domestic superiority, Bayern have responded emphatically this term with a record-breaking championship win: highest points' total, most victories, most clean sheets, fastest title ever, fewest goals conceded – the list goes on. Yet for all the statistical superlatives, Bayern's historic campaign could end on a sour note should Dortmund pip them to Europe's biggest club prize on 25 May.
Two 1-1 Bundesliga draws this season and a narrow 1-0 victory for Bayern in the German Cup quarter-finals suggest the Wembley showpiece will be close. With the finer details likely to decide the fourth UEFA Champions League final contested by clubs from the same country, UEFA.com analyses where the game could be won and lost.
Comparing the teams' custodians is less a case of who is the better than which has been more central to his side's success. Shielded by the most stringent defence in Bundesliga history (just 15 shipped this term), Bayern's Manuel Neuer shows the incredible concentration it takes to remain alert between long periods of inactivity; the Germany No1 has looked razor-sharp when called upon.
Roman Weidenfeller has had a more visible hand in Dortmund's progress, producing a number of crucial saves against Real Madrid CF and Málaga CF. Weidenfeller's increased involvement may raise questions about the defence in front of him, but the keeper will aim to reproduce the kind of heroics that earned Dortmund a draw in Munich in December.
Bayern have kept a record 20 clean sheets in the Bundesliga this season and shut out Juventus and FC Barcelona en route to this final. After years of tinkering, the last piece in Jupp Heynckes's defensive jigsaw has not been David Alaba's emergence as a top-class left-back, nor Philipp Lahm's subsequent reversion to his favoured position on the right, but the summer acquisition of Dante from VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach. Injuries handed the 29-year-old a chance to establish himself, and the Brazilian's cultured displays left Jérôme Boateng and Daniel Van Buyten to battle it out for the right to partner him in the centre.
Similarly influential is Dortmund's Mats Hummels. Composed on the ball and with an eye for a pass, the 24-year-old is a mature and intelligent defender and a key element in Dortmund's build-up play. Paired with the warrior-like Neven Subotić in one of the best central defensive partnerships in the Bundesliga, Hummels may be all the more determined to beat Bayern, who sold him to Borussia in 2008.
Provided he recovers from a thigh muscle tear sustained in the semi-final second leg in Madrid, all eyes will be on Dortmund playmaker Mario Götze come 20.45CET on 25 May. The 20-year-old, whose prospective summer switch to Bayern adds even more spice to the rivalry, shines brightest in a stellar attacking midfield trident that boasts the incisive Marco Reus and the tireless Jakub Błaszczykowski on either flank. Behind them, İlkay Gündogan has developed rapidly; still only 22, the midfielder's imperviousness to pressure – as demonstrated in the frantic final minutes away to Madrid – could be invaluable.
Gündogan has been tipped to succeed Bastian Schweinsteiger as the cornerstone of the German national team, but the Bayern midfielder still rules the roost. Haunted by a crucial shoot-out miss against Chelsea FC in last May's Munich decider, the 28-year-old has responded with arguably his finest season for Bayern alongside the commanding Javi Martínez.
The defensive security that the pair bring affords the more attack-minded Franck Ribéry, Arjen Robben and Thomas Müller licence to probe. Between the five of them, the Bayern midfield have perfected the art of stretching defences with horizontal passing, biding their time until a lapse in concentration allows Ribéry or Robben in behind.
A prime feature of Bayern's forward play in 2012/13 has been their relentless pressing. Spearheaded by Mario Mandžukić, they defend from the front, suffocating opponents in their own half and forcing mistakes which they ruthlessly exploit. Mandžukić, another inspired purchase, has managed 20 goals this campaign, many of them headers. Thomas Müller has scored more than the former VfL Wolfsburg man in all competitions, while Robben, Ribéry and Schweinsteiger have all contributed heavily and the presence on the bench of 17-goal Mario Gomez lends Bayern the strength in depth which possibly cost them last term.
Dortmund's own attacking style is not so far removed from Bayern's. While Robert Lewandowski may not be quite the labourer Mandžukić is, the Pole certainly makes up for it in class, as his four goals at home against Madrid attested. Where Bayern rely on patience and precision, it is spontaneity which often gives Dortmund the edge. Their first goal against Málaga was a case in point. The ball was worked out nicely from the back via Götze, but it was Reus's ingenious flick that made it, although Lewandowski's touch aand finish were world class.
And therein lies the principal difference between the teams. While Bayern have honed their passing game to almost mechanical perfection, Dortmund have the audacity to throw in the unexpected – as several of the continent's more established powers have discovered to their cost.
©UEFA.com 1998-2014. All rights reserved.