Borussia Dortmund prepare hostile reception for Mario Gotze vs. Bayern
It's Borussia Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich in the German Super Cup for the fourth time in five years and there's a familiar theme: concern about a hostile reception for Mario Gotze at Signal Iduna Park.
But there's a twist, too. Unlike in 2013 and 2014, when the Germany international had to warm up inside the ground for fear of the crowd's anger, Gotze will be wearing the shirt of the Black and Yellows again on Sunday night. Whether that'll keep the expected negativity toward him under wraps is a different matter.
"Of course I'm thinking about the welcome I'll get," the 24-year-old admitted. "I don't know what it will be."
Many supporters have not forgiven the attacking midfielder for defecting south in 2013. The announcement of his return to Westphalia in 2016-17 was greeted with outright hostility in supporters' online forums. To counter those sentiments, Gotze has publicly shown contrition for his departure, declaring it a mistake.
BVB CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke has also asked the faithful to respect the returnee. "Players wearing the Borussia shirt demand support, in general," he told German newspaper Bild.
In addition, Watzke painted a picture of a naive, inexperienced Gotze having been led astray by the devious Bavarians in 2013, musing that "somebody told him lies" and falsely made out that he had been Pep Guardiola's favourite transfer.
As Bayern themselves have admitted, the Catalan coach had originally asked for Neymar instead. It's a good story -- and not too far from the truth -- but it also presents an obvious problem: it reminds everyone that Gotze has come back only because he didn't succeed at the Allianz Arena in the first place. Dortmund have offered an escape route, a chance for rehabilitation, for a career reboot. It was a business decision; it's not love. At least, not yet.
Fortunately for the scorer of the World Cup-winning goal in 2014, who's not expected to start against Bayern, there'll be a second, potentially even bigger target of animosity: former BVB captain Mats Hummels will make his second competitive Bayern debut -- he left Munich in 2008 after a handful of games -- against the club he has served as a leader for over the past eight years.
Hummels is under no illusions that "there will certainly be people who won't greet me that nicely," but he is not the type to lose too much sleep over it. Maybe by the time Gotze comes on as a substitute late on, alongside Germany teammate Andre Schurrle, who also won't feature from the beginning because of the pair's late return from Euro 2016, the Signal Iduna crowd will have become too hoarse from jeering Hummels to vent more ire toward "Super Mario." We will see. Or rather, hear.
As far as the game is concerned, Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel has taken a very pessimistic stance, promising very little. "After the impressions from the last friendlies, I could do without the Super Cup," he said. "We're happy to play the game but we'd be well advised not to expect too much."
The integration of half a dozen of new signings, like winger Ousmane Dembele, former Barcelona centre-back Marc Bartra and Portugal's Euro 2016-winning left-back Raphael Guerreiro takes time, especially now that the team's central axis of Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan (sold to Manchester City) and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (sold to Manchester United) are no longer available to provide stability.
Tuchel wanted a bigger squad packed with versatile players to rotate more and change tactics more often. But one can tell that he's still getting to grips with the options at his disposal. The staggered arrival of the squad hasn't helped and the Super Cup, two weeks ahead of the start of the regular season, comes at a time when half the team seem a bit tired of preseason and the other half of late-comers are not quite up to speed.
"In terms of challenging Bayern, we've been in better situations before," he added.
Tuchel will have to curb his perfectionism and impatience in coming weeks to not put too much pressure on his re-engineered side. His opposite number Carlo Ancelotti has, by contrast, cut a very relaxed figure at Sabener Strasse, joking about his rudimentary command of German ("If I don't switch to English, we'll still be here by dinner time," he told reporters at the news conference on Friday) and taking some time out for a sneaky cigarette near the training ground.
There are injuries to contend with -- Arjen Robben, Holger Badstuber, Douglas Costa, Jerome Boateng and Renato Sanches -- but no real worries. The only contentious issue could be finding a place for Thomas Muller, whose starting position could come under threat in Ancelotti's preferred 4-3-3 system. Muller will have to adapt, once more, and play on the right side, as he did for Germany at the Euros, with less than impressive results as they crashed out in the semifinals to France.
"Of course I'm not happy with the way the summer went, but that doesn't knock me down," the 26-year-old said on Thursday.
The Super Cup is a good chance for Ancelotti to look at Muller's confidence, and for the player to stave off further debate over his scoring drought.
A 4-4-2 formation with two strikers, Ancelotti conceded, could be a possibility in coming weeks, which would certainly help the Bayern talisman's cause. Either way, it is Bayern who will contest the season opener as the more settled side, with Ancelotti well poised to outdo his predecessor at the first attempt: Guardiola lost all three Super Cup games while in charge of the Reds, so the Italian has a chance to make an immediate statement.
Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC's German football expert and author of "Bring the Noise: The Jurgen Klopp Story." Follow: @honigstein