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Can Dortmund topple Bayern’s decade of dominance?

It’s come down to the wire in the 2022-23 Bundesliga season. 

Top European clubs Manchester City, FC Barcelona and Napoli already wrapped things up by winning league championships with games to spare in their respective campaigns. But the Bundesliga title has yet to be decided going into Saturday’s final day of the season, as bitter rivals Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have been battling it out in one of the closest title races in European club soccer this season. 

Can Bayern win an 11th Bundesliga championship in a row? Or will Dortmund end their rival’s decade of dominance?

Here’s what you need to know about this weekend’s Bundesliga finale.

You can watch Borussia Dortmund take on Mainz 05 on Sportsnet at 9:30 a.m. ET / 6:30 a.m. PT and Bayern Munich against 1. FC Köln on Sportsnet360 or Sportsnet World at 9:30 a.m. ET / 6:30 a.m. PT

Setting the stage for the final matchday

With the Bundesliga’s best attack (90 goals for) and defence (37 goals against), and boasting the league’s most expensive roster, Bayern Munich looked poised to clinch a record 11th consecutive German title as the season entered the home stretch. 

But Borussia Dortmund kept within touching distance of the Bavarian rivals before overtaking them for first place a week ago. Bayern took a 1-0 lead over RB Leipzig in the first half last Saturday, only to then cough up a trio of goals in the final 25 minutes en route to a shocking 3-1 defeat. It was Bayern’s first home loss of the season. 

The next day, Borussia Dortmund recorded a 3-0 win away to Augsburg. As a result, Dortmund sits atop the Bundesliga standings with 70 points – two more than Bayern Munich – ahead of Saturday when all matches across the league kick off at 9:30 a.m. ET.

Things could have been so much different for Bayern had it held its nerve. Top of the table at the Christmas break and at the halfway point of the campaign, Bayern controversially fired manager Julian Nagelsmann on March 24 after a patchy run of form that saw the club drop out of first place. Replacement Thomas Tuchel guided the Bavarians to an important win over Dortmund on April 1 in his first game in charge and the club eventually climbed back into the top spot.  

A draw against Hoffenheim and a loss to Mainz in back-to-back games in mid-April proved to be a bump in the road before Bayern recovered under Tuchel’s guidance to win three in a row. But last week’s defeat at the hands of Leipzig opened the door for Dortmund to overtake the Bavarians, and it now has the advantage going into this final weekend. 

The clinching scenarios for both clubs 

Borussia Dortmund is in the driver’s seat. A win at home over FSV Mainz 05 (currently in ninth place) would seal the first Bundesliga championship for Dortmund since 2012 and end Bayern’s decade in power. A draw against Mainz might also be good enough for Dortmund, provided Bayern doesn’t win its match on Saturday. 

 Bayern will close out the season on the road against FC Köln, who sits 10th in the standings. A win against Cologne is an absolute must for Bayern, but it also needs Dortmund to lose to Mainz. A draw by Dortmund would also be good enough for Bayern if it beats Cologne. In that case, both Bayern and Dortmund would be tied on 71 points, but based on a superior goal difference (plus-59 to plus-39), which is the first tiebreaker, the title would remain with the Bavarians. 

In their previous league meeting this season, Bayern settled for a 1-1 draw vs. FC Köln at home on Jan 24. The next day, Dortmund earned a 2-1 road win against Mainz in their last encounter against each other. 

Who has the edge: Dortmund or Bayern? 

Borussia Dortmund controls its fate going into the final matchday of the season, knowing that a win over Mainz will secure their ninth German league title in club history, no matter how Bayern fares. 

Beyond that, Die Schwarzgelben (The Black and Yellows) have a decided edge over their Bavarian counterparts. Dortmund has been the best team in the Bundesliga since Jan. 22, winning 14 of its 18 games (with only one loss). They’ve also won three in a row and are unbeaten in their previous seven outings (with five wins).

Compare that to Bayern, who since the winter break have lost four times and have four fewer wins than Dortmund. 

What a Dortmund win would mean for the Bundesliga 

You have to believe that most neutrals are cheering for Borussia Dortmund on Saturday. A win by the Yellow Submarine would loosen Bayern’s vice-like grip on the championship, and inject some much-needed intrigue into the Bundesliga going forward. 

Bayern has won 10 consecutive German league crowns, which has rendered the Bundesliga title race unbearably predictable for the past decade. On average, Bayern won the German championship by 14 points over the second-place team during that span. Only once in the previous 10 years was the title race ever close – in 2018-19 when Bayern clinched it on the final day of the season by two points over Dortmund.  

Players to watch this weekend 

Forward Donyell Malen has been on a bit of a tear in recent weeks for Dortmund. The 24-year-old from the Netherlands has scored in seven of his club’s last nine games, tallying eight goals over that run. Likewise, French striker Sébastien Haller is riding a three-game scoring streak going into this weekend and has bagged a brace in each of his last two outings. Bayern winger Serge Gnabry is tied for second place in the Bundesliga scoring race with 14 goals, with five of them coming in Bayern’s last four games. 

No Alphonso Davies for Bayern on Saturday 

Canadian soccer fans who’ll be tuning in this weekend to catch a glimpse of Alphonso Davies will be disappointed. The Canadian winger/fullback has been sidelined with a thigh muscle injury that he suffered in a game against Mainz on April 22. Davies has missed all four of Bayern’s subsequent matches and will be watching from the sidelines on Saturday. 

Davies, a 22-year-old native of Edmonton, had three goals and eight assists for Bayern in 38 games in all competitions before the injury. Two weeks ago, he was voted onto the Bundesliga team of the season. 

Davies is under contract to Bayern until the end of the 2025 season, but the Bundesliga giants are actively trying to sign him to an extension that would tie him to the club for an extra two years. Bayern’s attempts to extend the deal comes amidst reports that Real Madrid is mounting a transfer move for the Canadian. 

The relegation battle 

The championship title isn’t the only matter to be decided on Saturday. We’ll also find out which clubs will be relegated next season to the German second division, known as 2. Bundesliga. 

With only 26 points going into the final week, Hertha Berlin is guaranteed of finishing in last place in the 18-team table. Four other clubs are in the mix to join them: Augsburg (34 points), VfB Stuttgart and VfL Bochum (both 32) and Schalke (31). 

Both Bochum (vs. Bayer Leverkusen) and Stuttgart (vs. Hoffenheim) are at home on Saturday, while Augsburg (vs. Borussia Monchengladbach) and Schalke (vs. RB Leipzig) are on the road. Of the four relegation contenders, Schalke has the toughest assignment against third-place Leipzig. 

Aside from Hertha, one other team will be officially relegated from the Bundesliga by the end of this weekend. The 16th-place team will be forced into a two-legged playoff vs. the third-best team from the second division (which will be either Heidenheim or Hamburg), with the winner earning a spot in the Bundesliga next season. 

John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for several media outlets, including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. TFC Republic can be found here.

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