It's been a year since Bayern Munich fans last saw their team play at home.
In that time the team has become German, European and world champion. The anniversary will be marked Saturday by another empty-stadium edition of “der Klassiker” against Borussia Dortmund.
When Bayern fans were last allowed into the Allianz Arena on March 8, 2020, there was celebration in the air. Bayern was marking its 120th anniversary in throwback white jerseys with wine-colored sleeves and faded-out sponsor logos.
Bayern was unbeaten in 14 games ahead of what turned out to be a nervy 2-0 win over Augsburg eventually sealed by Leon Goretzka's goal in stoppage time. That unbeaten run eventually hit 33 games, including the 1-0 win over Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League final in August, just one of many TV-only triumphs for Bayern fans in 2020.
“The curious thing is that since last spring, our team has actually been delivering the best football it’s played for a long time, permanently at a top level,” honorary club president Uli Hoeness said Thursday. "I have the impression that our players are on a personal mission to please the fans out there in this pandemic. They are succeeding magnificently.”
When the German league briefly experimented with a limited fan return in September and October, the Allianz Arena stayed empty because coronavirus cases were rising in Munich. The only games Bayern has played in front of its own supporters were at the European Super Cup in Hungary and Club World Cup in Qatar.
For much of this season, it looked as if Saturday's game between Bayern and Dortmund would be another addition to the rivalry's recent history of one-sided Bayern wins. Dortmund is fifth and has spent much of the season floundering under first Lucien Favre and then interim coach Edin Terzic.
Dortmund has come good just at the right time, though, and could have a shot at upsetting Bayern. Terzic's team has won its last four games, including a 3-2 victory over Sevilla in the Champions League and a 1-0 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach and its coach Marco Rose, the man taking over Terzic’s job at the end of the season.
Jadon Sancho scored the winning goal against Gladbach but also picked up a thigh problem which left him on the Dortmund bench with ice strapped to his leg. He's a doubt against Bayern, a blow after Sancho reignited his season with six goals and five assists in his last nine games in all competitions. Left-back Raphael Guerreiro's fitness is also in doubt.
Bayern has a reminder of the coronavirus' impact as defender Benjamin Pavard started rebuilding his fitness in his first training session Wednesday after spending time in isolation following a positive test for COVID-19.
There's more riding on the game for Bayern than just bragging rights over Dortmund. Slip-ups last month against Arminia Bielefeld and Eintracht Frankfurt meant Bayern's lead over second-place Leipzig was slashed from seven points to two. Leipzig plays earlier Saturday at Freiburg, so Bayern's players will know before kickoff if they must beat Dortmund to reclaim the top spot.
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