Bayern Munich recorded a resounding 3-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund this weekend. What did this match reveal about Dortmund’s weaknesses, and what does it mean for the Bundesliga title race?
For 65 minutes, it seemed it could go either way. Bayern Munich was dominant, winning and retaining more possession, but Borussia Dortmund looked more dangerous, with a number of great chances. And then Mario Götze received the ball just inside the 18-yard box, and with ice-cold composure, drilled it past his former teammate to break Borussen hearts. The 3-0 final score was too flattering for Munich, however, unrepresentative of a fantastic, competitive game that was not the one-sided affair the scoreline suggests.
Silver linings for Dortmund
Whether it is due to the busy schedule or to injuries, Dortmund have labored in the past few weeks, but they showed no signs of fatigue here. After a nervy first ten minutes, Dortmund played brightly, picking out clever passes and showing the incisiveness and speed that make them so deadly on the attack. Robert Lewandowski, who made no secret of his desire to join Götze at Bayern, missed a glorious chance in the opening minutes, while Marco Reus also had two attempts and Henrikh Mkhitaryan should have made it 1-1. Given how Bayern demolished Manchester City and dominated Bayer Leverkusen, Dortmund can be very proud of their performance. Had they been more clinical with their chances—which they will have to be against Napoli on Tuesday—the outcome could have been very different.
Dortmund’s performance was especially impressive given the makeshift nature of the defense. With the entire first-choice back four out with injuries, Klopp was forced to bring in Manuel Friedrich, a 34-year-old center-back who had been out of a contract since May. Though BVB definitely missed the stability of Hummels and Subotic, Friedrich and his partners were laudable, especially the 21-year-old left-back Erik Durm. Playing for the injured Marcel Schmelzer, Durm effectively removed Bayern’s threat from the right flank, smothering Thomas Müller and helping to cover for the slower Friedrich. Bayern had no real chances before Götze’s goal, and the two later goals were the result of BVB throwing everything into the search for an equalizer.
Injury concerns moving forward
The pre-Christmas stretch will pose a harsh test for Dortmund, and Ilkay Gundogan and Hummels cannot come back more quickly. BVB are, however, boosted by the return of right-back Lukasz Piszczek, who came on as a substitute against Bayern after more than 180 days out of action. As they have yet to clinch Champions League qualification, Dortmund will have to beat both Napoli and Marseille to have any chance of moving forward, while the Bundesliga also brings difficult fixtures against Bayer Leverkusen and Hertha BSC Berlin.
As Klopp said to reporters after the match: “I told the boys they have five minutes to feel depressed, then they have to look forward to the Napoli game.” Their season is not over — far from it — but they do face a challenging uphill task.
Have Bayern already won the Bundesliga?
As for Bayern, much of the post-match narrative has focused on whether they have already won the Bundesliga. Though 38 games unbeaten is a statistic to strike fear into all the hearts of Europe, the belief that the Bavarians have already claimed the title is both premature and disrespectful to the other teams in the league, Bayer Leverkusen in particular. Due in part to last season’s Champions League final, Leverkusen is often forgotten in the title discussion, but Dortmund’s neighbors are every bit as capable to challenge Bayern. Sami Hyypia’s team is only four points behind the leaders, and held them to a 1-1 draw back in October.
In any other league, a four-point lead at this stage in the season does not indicate victory, or even domination. In the Premier League, Arsenal currently sit four points above Liverpool and Chelsea, but no one would dare suggest that the Gunners have the whole affair in the bag. In the 2011-12 season, BVB were already eight points behind Bayern on Match Day 6, but by May had not only successfully defended their title but had also beaten Bayern in a thrilling DFB-Pokal final. Bayern are probably the best team in Europe at the moment, but they are not invincible.