Dortmund could learn from defensive commitment of cup rivals Bayern
Mia san Mia -- It is Bavarian slang that roughly translates to "We are who we are" and is a term that Bayern Munich made their own. You can buy Mia san Mia mugs and scarves in their fan store and it's printed on the inside of their match shirts.
It very much describes the Bavarian way of life of doing things your own way, about keeping your own identity and not changing for anyone else. Bayern like to apply that phrase especially after scoring a winner in stoppage time or when claiming that first place is their birthright. From the outside looking in, it can appear as arrogance -- and sure enough, sometimes a big chunk of elitism reverberates within the phrase.
Ultimately, it stands for Bayern's winning mentality. However, it best not be confused with arrogance at the moment. On the contrary, they have been very humble on the pitch for the most part.
Since Jupp Heynckes took over as interim manager for Carlo Ancelotti, results have highly favoured the Bavarians. Thirteen wins in 15 games is an impressive record, yet the performances haven't been as dominant and consistent as the win tally may suggest.
In the end, Bayern needed some luck to come away with all three points in their 1-0 win away to Stuttgart, as Sven Ulreich saved a penalty at the death of a highly-contested match. At the Mercedes-Benz Arena, Heyncke's side could not suffocate their opponents at will and push them deep into their own half.
Stuttgart's physical strikers managed to hold on to long balls punted down the field time and time again and managed to create a number of dangerous opportunities. Though, the fact that the hosts remained scoreless in the end had a lot to do with Bayern's devotion to making defensive plays.
Especially when it's not just smooth sailing for FC Bayern, every player is ready to help out at the back. Wingers often sprint back to fight for the ball after losing it after an unsuccessful dribble rather than lamenting their poor luck for a second. Midfielders like Arturo Vidal and Javi Martinez are always doing their utmost to help their backline out in tricky situations and nobody in a red shirt seems to shun a physical challenge to irritate opponents, as slight deflections or wayward passes more often than not are recovered by Bayern players.
It may be an underappreciated virtue but nonetheless significant to why they have only conceded just 11 goals in 17 Bundesliga matches. It is also a virtue that currently separates them from Borussia Dortmund, who they face at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday night in the round of 16 of the German cup.
BVB have outgunned Bayern in the first half of the season, scoring two goals more. However, the Black and Yellows have conceded more than double (24) within the same period and will start the second half of the season with a 13-point deficit to the league leaders.
Peter Stoger has picked up two vital wins since his appointment at Dortmund, elevating the Ruhr Side from eighth to third in the standings. The 51-year-old Austrian has been tasked with bringing more stability to Dortmund's defence after Peter Bosz's approach of non-stop, aggressive football resulted in unprecedented free-fall.
And indeed, the Westphalians have been more risk averse in two games under Stoger, applying a midfield press while positioning deeper on the pitch altogether. Dortmund's moments of chasing the ball far up the field have become more nuanced, too.
Yet, the crucial 2-1 win against Hoffenheim on Saturday also showed that there are vital elements missing from a truly stalwart defence. Stoger was happy to praise his players for their resolve to claim a win late in the game, yet he was not shy in criticising a lack of grit in their tackling.
Instead of charging into tackles, Dortmund players are often happy to afford their opponents a yard of space. In every match, there are at least five situations, when yellow shirts stay away from headers altogether rather than trying to throw their opponents off.
A half-hearted sprint back here, a missed opportunity to draw a professional foul there. It's often just the little things but they accumulate over the course of a season and add to errors of a more tactical nature.
Bayern Munich are like Walter Sobchak from the Big Lebowski: always ready to send their opponents into a world of pain. Dortmund, meanwhile, are best encaptured by Donny, as they are out of their element when it comes to gritty defending.
It should be Dortmund, who make up for their lack in class in comparison to Bayern with fight. But really, it's the Bavarians, who are not too consumed by their own stardom when things get tough.
Yet again, the Bundesliga title race has ceased to exist before Christmas. FCB already have one hand on their sixth consecutive championship, carrying a comfortable 11-point margin into 2018.
There are many reasons why Dortmund could not keep up with their Southern rivals in the first half of the season but before they want to ever truly challenge the German powerhouse, they need to adjust their mindset of what it takes to win. A bit more "Mia san Mia" rather than "Echte Liebe" at the Westfalenstadion wouldn't hurt.
Stefan Buczko covers Borussia Dortmund for ESPN FC. Twitter: @StefanBuczko.