Since Borussia Dortmund emerged as Bayern Munich's main challengers in 2010, the matches between the two have always been won by the dominant side at the time. During 2010-11 and 2011-12, two seasons when Dortmund won the Bundesliga, they recorded five consecutive victories over Bayern, running up an aggregate score of 12-3.

This campaign, with Bayern running away with the title, the tables have been turned – the three matches this season, across three competitions, have produced two Bayern wins and a draw Jupp Heynckes's side were entirely happy with, as it helped to preserve their considerable points advantage over Dortmund in the league.

The contests have been so fascinating because of the obvious difference in styles. Bayern favour proactive possession football and boast the second-best ball retention statistics in Europe, behind the Barcelona side they unceremoniously thrashed 7-0 in the semi-finals. On the other hand, Dortmund are about quick transitions, transferring the ball into attack immediately to break at a disorganised opposition defence.

The most memorable meeting between the two clubs remains last season's DFB-Pokal final, when Dortmund ran out 5-2 winners. "5-2. Five-two. FIVE-two. No matter how many times those two numbers echoed through the minds of millions, they just didn't make sense," wrote Raphael Honigstein. But as impressive as the result was the pure style of Dortmund's performance.

They enacted Jürgen Klopp's strategy beautifully – soaking up pressure close to their own box, before breaking with outstanding pace. The one-touch interplay was tremendous, the way Shinji Kagawa, Kevin Grosskreutz and Jakub Blaszczykowski tracked their opponents in the defensive phase of play, before springing in behind when Dortmund won the ball, underlined the modern coaching obsession with transitions between two phases of play. As Dortmund's fifth victory in a row over Bayern, it seemed their natural approach perfectly suited the challenge.

Another seven-goal thriller at Wembley is unlikely – in their meetings this season both sides have become more cautious. Bayern continue to dominate possession but are reluctant to throw so many players forward into attack at once, for fear of leaving large gaps for Dortmund to break into. On the other hand, Klopp seems less confident his side can outplay Bayern, and has switched from his usual 4-2-3-1 to a more cautious 4-3-3 system.

Either Blaszczykowski or Grosskreutz has been used as an additional deep central midfielder, while Mario Götze and Marco Reus have been used on either flank – usually one starts as a No10 and they combine on the break. Klopp has decided essentially that Bayern's possession play has become so dangerous that he needs another player in the centre to disrupt it – and has sacrificed some counterattacking potential as a result. Dortmund are more fearful of Bayern this season, with good reason.

The joker in the pack, however, is the fact Bayern may not return to their possession-based approach against Dortmund. Heynckes's side shocked Europe with their astonishing level of dominance over Barcelona, but what was strategically so impressive was that they altered their normal game to become highly physical and reactive. There were spells of good possession, certainly, but Bayern did not concentrate on outplaying Barcelona at their own game, instead exposing their traditional weaknesses – a lack of strength, a lack of height at set pieces, and a vulnerability on the counterattack, particularly in full-back positions.

It is not uncommon for elite teams to have a "European" approach that is distinctly separate from their strategy in the league. When José Mourinho's Inter won the European Cup in 2010, their highly defensive performances against Chelsea and Bayern were significantly different from the approach used to wrap up the Serie A title.

It is not unreasonable to think Bayern will continue their reactive approach in the final, mixing possession play with quick breaks down the flanks. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry were their key attacking weapons at Camp Nou on Wednesday night and, although they will not enjoy such space against a disciplined, compact Dortmund side, it would be a shame to waste their talents. Robben settled the German Cup meeting between these sides in February with a typical left-footed curled effort into the far corner.

While Bayern's possession dominance against Dortmund has been effective this season, a major part of their game plan has been Toni Kroos. He was the dominant player in the 1-1 draw earlier this season by roaming between the lines, from where he opened the scoring. His probable absence from the final leaves Heynckes without anyone who can play that advanced midfield role – Thomas Müller is a different type of player, and his strengths encourage Bayern to attack more directly.

At the start of the campaign, this Saturday's league meeting between the two appeared a likely title decider; by January it already appeared an irrelevance as Bayern had taken a commanding league lead, but now it is a dry run for the biggest game of the season.

Bayern and Dortmund hardly need a dress rehearsal – the European Cup final at Wembley will be the 10th meeting between the sides in the past three seasons and the players know each other perfectly well. Strategically it is up to the coaches to provide a surprise in the final.

Michael Cox is the editor of tactics website zonalmarking.net