Gundogan vs. Martinez, a key tactical battle at Wembley

CL Final probable formations

While international finals between familiar league rivals can be pretty dour, the recent history between these sides has been one of mixed domination. Borussia Dortmund had won five straight before Bayern won and drew two in the last four meetings. The stage is set for an interesting tactical contest between Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund and Jupp Heynckes’ Bayern Munich.

Both sides advanced because of the their tactical versatility. They each changed their normal style to face the unique challenges thrown at them by tactically uncompromising opponents and advanced with surprising ease. While there will be several battles on the pitch, the most interesting could turn out to be the one between the 8’s, with Ilkay Gundogan and Javi Martinez battling it out for midfield domination.

Heynckes looked closely at where opponents succeeded against Barcelona and one of the key players in the semifinal was Javi Martinez, who man-marked countryman Andres Iniesta out of the tie. If the Bayern Munich manager was watching the second leg of the quarterfinal between Malaga and Borussia Dortmund, he’ll see Pellegrini effectively man-marked Gundogan out of the match and so effectively shut down the Dortmund midfield that it took a heroic extra-time effort for them to advance. While many anticipate Muller to press Gundogan, Martinez is the clear choice to man-mark because of his superior defensive ability.

Klopp’s strategy will be hampered by the unfortunate injury to talisman Mario Götze. Borussia’s 10 did a fantastic number on Xabi Alonso in the semifinal, and whether Großkreutz will be able to replace him may be key to Dortmund’s success in the final. If Martinez is shadowing Gundogan, Großkreutz may see more freedom in the middle. A smart move by Klopp would be to drop Lewandowski himself to pressure Martinez and Schweinsteiger the way Simeone used Falcao in a counterattacking effort against Real Madrid in last week’s Copa del Rey final.

Against anyone else, both sides essentially play the same strategy: high pressure and dynamic midfield play looking for a targetman. The battle of the 8’s is one to watch, both defensively and offensively, as the one with more impact on the game may well decide the winner. What will be interesting in Saturday’s final at Wembley is if one or both sides attempts to neutralize the other. We could see a change in the normal script, with unheralded heroes stepping up in key duels with a championship winning performance.

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