Heynckes, Bayern need Dortmund to push them if they are to replicate past successes
One thousand six hundred twenty-four days after Jupp Heynckes won the Champions League with Bayern Munich in London, the 72-year-old once again takes on Borussia Dortmund on Saturday night. Unlike that night at Wembley, which ended with the Bavarians' most important win in 12 years and Heynckes being awarded the status of a German football saint, the trip to Signal Iduna Park is necessary of a more mundane nature for everyone concerned. It's a Bundesliga fixture between the two leading clubs of the decade, a "summit" between first and second in the table, and a chance for the champions to open a six-points gap. But Bayern's season certainly does not hinge on the result.
The manner of the performance, however, should offer some very interesting pointers about the likelihood of history repeating itself. Ever since Heynckes was called upon to take charge of Bayern for a fourth time, the idea that he might repeat his treble of 2013 has loomed large in the Bavarian capital. By turning back the clock tactically in terms of his personnel choices, Heynckes has inadvertently raised hopes of a successful time travel, and the fact that Bayern are unbeaten in six games over all competitions since his return, has certainly added credence to the nostalgia-infused optimism.
But while the positive scorelines have becalmed the dressing room and board room, we are still none much the wiser about the extent of the retro-system's weather-resistance. A stormy night at Dortmund, their recent set-backs notwithstanding, will offer a truer test than Freiburg, Hamburg, Celtic (times two) and a prematurely-decimated Leipzig (times two) mustered.
Heynckes' key measure over the last few weeks has been to reinstall Javi Martinez as a defensive midfielder to protect the back four from counter-attacks and help with the build-up play through the centre. The Spaniard has done well enough to remind Arjen Robben of "the successful times under Mr. Heynckes in the past" but unlike in 2013, there's no Bastian Schweinsteiger at the height of his power right next to him.
Finding a reliable partner for Martinez has proved difficult for Heynckes. Arturo Vidal still lacks the strategic maturity and discipline to serve effectively at the heart of midfield. New signing Sebastian Rudy comes much closer to Schweinsteiger with regard to his ability to set the pace and direction of the game but he's not a physical presence, and much less dynamic than the Germany World Cup winner. Thiago, meanwhile, is more effective in an advanced role.
Bayern are more balanced than they were under Carlo Ancelotti but still not quite balanced enough, nor are they as secure in their combination game to control matches against top opposition. Due to their 7-0 evisceration of Barcelona in the Champions League semifinal Heynckes' treble Bayern are often mischaracterised as a counter-attacking side but their game was based on possession and could be quite slow at times. The rapid bursts forward on the flanks that proved so effective against Barca that season was less a tactical ploy than the consequence of a more selfless commitment to defending by Robben and Franck Ribery. They came all the way back to help out their full-backs and thus found themselves with plenty of space to run into once Bayern won back the ball.
Fast forward four-odd years and it's clear that the team are not quite at the same level on the wings. Robben has struggled to get into goalscoring positions in recent weeks. Over on the left, Kingsley Coman has been much improved this season but not yet as irresistible as his compatriot Ribery used to be. Add the absence of Thomas Muller, and what you're left with is a very good if somewhat one-dimensional side who always try to overload the flanks before finding Robert Lewandowski with the final ball. Right now, that doesn't quite seem enough to make it to the latter stages in Europe, let alone to the Champions League final in Kiev.
Coming up against Dortmund, on Saturday and again in late December in the DFB-Pokal, will constitute the only two truly challenging matches before the winter break for Heynckes' side. (The home game vs. Paris Saint-Germain should prove meaningless) Ironically, the Black and Yellows are once more cast as a reluctant midwife, helping Bayern's brilliance come to the fore just as they did in 2012 and 2013, when their football under Jurgen Klopp had set a new domestic benchmark.
If Bayern are truly to achieve similar glory and turn back the clocks, they will need Dortmund to go back to their former levels of excellence, too. Experience has taught Heynckes that they need a Bundesliga rival who can really push them to the breaking point -- before one of the big guns in Europe does.
Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC's German football expert and author of "Bring the Noise: The Jurgen Klopp Story." Follow: @honigstein