Borussia Dortmund’s rejuvenated Mario Götze relishing Bayern return

Having recovered from illness, the forward and his teammates can take a major step towards the Bundesliga title on Saturday

“Bayern Munich didn’t finish me,” Mario Götze said this week but on Saturday afternoon he can pretty much put an end to the Bavarian club’s title hopes this season. His Borussia Dortmund are two points ahead of Bayern before the game at the Allianz Arena and an away win would go a long way to securing the club’s first Bundesliga title since 2012.

For Götze it is a fantastic position to be seven months into a season he started on the sidelines with questions still remaining over his fitness after the metabolic disease he suffered in 2017. The fact that Dortmund can pip Bayern to the title makes it even sweeter for the 26-year-old who had three tough years at the reigning German champions between 2013-16.

He never seemed to settle properly in southern Germany after a difficult divorce from Dortmund and the BVB-fans were extremely unhappy when it became clear that he was returning for a second spell at the club. In April 2016 the Dortmund-supporters on the Yellow Wall unveiled a huge banner during a game against saying: “Milan or Madrid – just not Dortmund. Piss off Götze”.

A few months later, however, Götze did re-sign for the club he made his Bundesliga debut for as a 17-year-old and has sought to rebuild his relationship with the fans ever since. The metabolic disease that he was diagnosed with in 2017 meant that he featured in only 16 matches, scoring two goals, in the 2016-17 season and there were fears he would never return to his best.

Slowly but surely, however, he has regained his fitness and has this season regained his starting place and played an important role in Dortmund’s title charge. There may have been only four Bundesliga goals to date but his overall contribution cannot be underestimated. He has become an incredibly hard worker, helping the team press and harry and allowing players such as Jadon Sancho and Marco Reus to do the more fancy stuff.

Götze celebrates his winning goal in the 2014 World Cup final
Götze celebrates his winning goal in the 2014 World Cup final. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

It is a remarkable turnaround after he was left out of the first six match squads by the coach, Lucien Favre, and made his season debut as a substitute only on game-day seven at home against Augsburg. This week, in an interview with Sport-Bild, he thanked Favre for the patience he showed and the encouragement he gave him during those early difficult weeks.

“I refused to give up and I worked my way out of the situation,” he said. “The coach has a very good feeling how he can use the players’ strengths in his gameplan. I am really pleased that I am able to bring my qualities to the team and help them towards success.”

The forward, who scored the winning goal when Germany won the World Cup in 2014 but has played only 25 minutes for his country since suffering his illness, was riled by suggestions in the build-up to Der Klassiker that he “had been broken” in Munich, as the former Dortmund player Jörg Heinrich had suggested.

“I won three league titles and two German Cups and also won the World Cup when I was there. That’s not too bad after all. And then I was able to work for three years with Pep Guardiola and I learned so much from him: not only about football but also about myself, my personality and my development. I certainly wasn’t finished by my spell in Munich.”

The game on Saturday will be huge for Götze, who is likely to start up front rather than in an attacking midfield with Paco Alcacer out with an arm injury, but it is also an extremely important evening for the Bayern coach, Niko Kovac, who has had a difficult first season in charge of the record champions. Bayern’s league form has been inconsistent and they were eliminated by Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League. On Wednesday night they nearly went out of the German Cup to the second division side Heidenheim but won 5-4 in the end despite having Niklas Süle sent off.

The feeling is that Kovac may have to win the league to keep his job and he said that second place in the league would be no good for him or the club. “Second place is the first loser. We want to win,” he said.

“The game on Saturday is very, very important. We all know what’s at stake and what will be demanded of us both defensively and going forward. It will be an interesting game between two evenly matched teams. The players, the fans and the club will give everything to win this.”

So, however, will Dortmund and particularly Götze, who will be out to prove once again that he is not finished.

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