Thomas Tuchel’s unexpected appointment as Bayern Munich coach has added even more spice to “der Klassiker.”
Tuchel, who took over after Bayern fired Julian Nagelsmann last Friday, will face former club Borussia Dortmund on Saturday in his first match back in Germany.
Dortmund fired Tuchel three days after the team won the 2017 German Cup because he had fallen out with club officials and players over his two seasons in charge. There were disagreements with chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke, sports director Michael Zorc, chief scout Sven Mislintat and others.
“We couldn’t see a basis for continued work together built on trust,” Watzke said at the time.
Bayern is gambling on Tuchel shaking up the team for the decisive part of the season after a 2-1 loss at Bayer Leverkusen dropped the 10-time defending champions one point behind Dortmund going into Saturday’s match in Munich.
Dortmund’s visit is looming as arguably the biggest game of the season — a potential title decider with eight games remaining afterward. Only a win will ease fears of decline at Bayern and wrest the league outcome from Dortmund’s control.
“The challenge can’t be any greater,” Tuchel said at his presentation on Saturday.
Tuchel also fell out with club officials at Paris Saint-Germain before his dismissal in December 2020, and there were similar reports of disagreements before he was fired by Chelsea last year.
Tuchel had had an immediate effect at Chelsea, winning the 2021 Champions League after only four months in charge, and Bayern is hoping for a similar impact. Bayern faces Manchester City in the Champions League quarterfinals 10 days after “der Klassiker.”
Tuchel will only have a full team to work with from Friday because of the international break — Canada defender Alphonso Davies is expected to be the last player to return.
The coach’s team talks are going to be important with players like Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka particularly close to Nagelsmann. The latter said Nagelsmann’s firing was a “shock for everyone.”
The break was timely for Dortmund, which had to contend with a long injury list for its last game — a 6-1 win over Cologne.
“We’ll have a few back at the weekend,” Dortmund sporting director Sebastian Kehl said, referring to the absences of midfielder Julian Brandt, goalkeeper Gregor Kobel, and forwards Karim Adeyemi, Jamie Bynoe-Gittens and Youssoufa Moukoko.
Germany defender Nico Schlotterbeck returned from international duty with a thigh problem but should be ready for Dortmund on Saturday. Jamal Musiala could return for Bayern.
Kehl, who took over from Zorc last year, said Bayern’s appointment of Tuchel will have little influence on the game.
“I don’t know if FC Bayern will be better Saturday with Thomas Tuchel than before under Julian Nagelsmann,” Kehl said. “I don’t think the coaching personnel will really affect this game.”
The last time Dortmund faced an opponent that just hired one of its former coaches, Leipzig won 3-0 under Marco Rose in September. But that was early in the season and Dortmund has looked much better since the winter break.
Dortmund was nine points behind Bayern at the turn of the year and has since won all but one of its 10 league games. Schalke grabbed a 2-2 draw in the Ruhr derby.
Dortmund has struggled in Munich before, losing on its last eight visits in the league since a meaningless 3-0 win in April 2014 when Bayern was already champion. Kehl was still playing for Dortmund at the time.
“The guys are really looking forward to the game because we have a big chance,” Kehl said of Dortmund’s title aspirations this season. “We can go there with a lot of confidence. We earned it in the last few weeks. We’re much more stable, more settled.”
It’s also a chance for Bayern.
The last time Dortmund arrived in Munich as league leader in April 2019, Bayern cruised to a 5-0 victory to retake the lead and go on to win another title. Dortmund could only win once in six visits as leader — in February 2012 when Robert Lewandowski scored for a 1-0 win to set Dortmund on its way to defending the title.
Bayern has won every title since.