As much as Saturday's Champions League final might look like a classic underdog up against a giant type of matchup, it doesn't quite deserve that kind of billing. Borussia Dortmund's financial mismanagement in the 2000s put them in a situation where they needed to build up players just to sell them, and they needed a coach to get the most out of the solid, but unspectacular talent that they had. They've cast off numerous stars and will cast off more.
Dortmund aren't all the way back, despite their appearance in this game, but it's a bit tough to look at the team with the highest average attendance in European football as a minnow, especially when they're less than two decades removed from a European Cup win. Der BVB sell 5,000 more tickets for each game than Manchester United and Barcelona do, but their riches don't compare to those of Bayern Munich, who didn't have to think twice about paying €40m to sign Dortmund's Mario Götze. He had a release clause because Dortmund -- despite not really being the cool underdogs their fans want you to believe they are -- still aren't that big of a club, and he wasn't going to sign a new deal without a release clause. Bayern's players don't have release clauses in their contracts because no one signs for Bayern thinking that it's a stepping stone to bigger and better things. They are the destination.
While still working their way out of their financial troubles, Dortmund won a title, largely thanks to their entertaining and talented manager Jürgen Klopp. They sold Nuri Sahin, now back on the squad after he failed to stick at Real Madrid, then won the title again without him. They sold Shinji Kagawa and Lucas Barrios, then finished second behind only Bayern in the Bundesliga while defeating Real Madrid en route to a European final berth. They've already sold Götze, they'll almost certainly sell Robert Lewandowski, and the vultures are circling around both Ilkay Gündogan and Mats Hummels as well.
They'll buy good, cheap replacements, promote some players from their academy team and comfortably finish top four in the Bundesliga next year, because they've gotten very good at what they do. This is probably their last chance to win a European Cup for the next three or four years, however, and their fans will obviously be a bit desperate for them to take it even if a lot of them are probably resigned to the idea that Bayern have the much better squad, especially with Götze sitting out.
Meanwhile, Bayern Munich have absolutely no financial problems, can buy any player they want who doesn't play for one of Spain's big two or England's three richest sides -- save for perhaps a couple of Juventus players, Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic -- but they don't need to buy anyone. Their team is stacked to the point where they were legitimately better than Barcelona this season, and they would have been better even if Lionel Messi were fit. They're incredible, they're only going to get better, and Dortmund need to hope that Bayern isn't at their best on Saturday.
It's really that simple. With Götze out, Dortmund doesn't have players good enough to win on their tactics and performance alone if Bayern doesn't hand them a few gifts. A mistake-free Bayern performance means a Bayern win. Period.
Bayern Munich's only absences are the two long-term injury concerns that they've had for a while. Toni Kroos had some faint hopes of returning for this game, but will not make the squad. He still has faint hopes of cracking the bench for the DFB-Pokal final next week. Holger Badstuber will be sidelined until December with a knee ligament injury.
Götze is Dortmund's only absence. He was always a doubt to play, but tweaked his hamstring injury on training on Wednesday and was promptly ruled out. Hummels is fighting to get fit and will face a fitness test before the match on Saturday. He's expected to start.
Projected lineups (left to right)
Borussia Dortmund (4-3-3): Roman Weidenfeller; Marcel Schmelzer, Mats Hummels, Neven Subotic, Lukasz Piszczek; Sebastian Kehl, Sven Bender, Ilkay Gündogan; Marco Reus, Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski
Sahin or Kevin Großkreutz could make an appearance in the place of either Kehl or Bender if Klopp is feeling adventurous, but he'll probably stick with his three most experienced midfielders available and go to a 4-3-3 formation instead of his usual 4-2-3-1. There is some precedent for this. Bayern's team basically picks itself, though Daniel van Buyten getting in over Jerome Boateng or Mario Gomez (Mario Goooooomeeeeeeez, cha cha!) getting a start over Mario Mandžukić isn't entirely outside the realm of possibility.
Ilkay Gündogan vs. the world - This isn't really fair on Gündogan, but he's probably going to be the hero or the goat. He's going to have to track back and do a lot of defending and be his team's main creative outlet in the absence of Götze, whether he plays as the most attacking midfielder in a midfield three or next to a more defensive player in a double pivot. He's going to have to do a lot. He'll look like the man of the match if Dortmund win and will be one of the main scapegoats if they lose.
Neven Subotic vs. Mario Mandžukić - With Mats Hummels not 100 percent (or Felipe Santana starting), Subotic is going to need to have one of his best games of the season. Mandžukić has had a spectacular season and is active and athletic enough that he regularly occupies both defenders by himself. Subotic will need to be spectacular for Dortmund to have a chance.
Jerome Boateng vs. Marco Reus - While Reus starts on the left wing, he certainly doesn't stay there. He cuts inside a lot and will be more the responsibility of Boateng (and to a lesser extent, the central midfielders) than Lahm. Boateng will need to react quickly to close him down when he comes inside without vacating his position too quickly and leaving spaces at the back.
Bayern Munich would be the favorites to win even if Götze and Hummels were fit. With Götze out and Hummels a question mark, the only reason to believe Dortmund will win is sentiment. They have the talent to take advantage if Bayern play poorly (2010 final) or fail to finish their numerous chances (2012 final), but there's no reason to pick them. 2-0 Bayern.