Der Klassiker: Bayern Munich prove they're still the team to beat
It was billed as Borussia Dortmund’s opportunity to haul themselves back into the Bundesliga title race, but the champions showed why they are closing in on eight in a row.
The famous terrace at Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion was empty for this do-or-die title clash but the home side set off with an intensity that belied the deserted stands. They were sharp and precise, and nearly took the lead in the opening moments when a crafty ball from Julian Brandt sent Thorgan Hazard and Erling Haaland steaming down on the Bayern goal. Haaland’s rushed shot squirmed past Manuel Neuer and was cleared off the line by Jerome Boateng, but it seemed promising for Dortmund. Maybe this Bayern team could be got at.
Bayern grow into game - and get on the scoresheet
The first half continued with the hosts on top for the opening 35 minutes; Dortmund probing and pushing, Bayern sitting and waiting. Half chances came and went with Dortmund failing to really capitalise on their possession. The away side only began to exert themselves on the game as half-time grew near but, typically, took little time to make it count.
Bayern lost the ball on the edge of the Dortmund penalty area but sprung on the yellow shirts in unison, regaining possession with a sharpness that had been missing up to that point. The ball fell to Joshua Kimmich, who took two purposeful touches forward before gently lofting the ball over a scrambling Roman Bürki. The goalkeeper could perhaps have done better, but there was no denying the brilliance of the goal.
The second half began with the home side needing to overcome their old rivals to maintain a fighting chance of wrestling the title from their grip. Dortmund, bolstered by the introduction of Jadon Sancho and Emre Can at half-time, set about trying to reignite the Bundesliga title race.
Haaland struggles to make an impact before limping off
They might have hoped that Haaland could be the spark but the Norwegian was a peripheral figure for much of the match. His big chance came on the hour mark when Hazard darted into the box and laid the ball off to the striker in space in the middle. At that crucial moment Boateng lost his footing and gave the Haaland all the time he needed to turn and shoot. But his scuffed shot drifted past Neuer’s post, clipping the flailing Boateng on its way past. There were no Dortmund protests and only a cursory VAR check done, but later replays appeared to show that the ball brushed an arm. It was not to be.
Sancho had struggled to get into the game initially but as his side grew more desperate he started to take more dangerous and aggressive positions. Cutting inside from the left wing he jinked towards Boateng, teasing him for a moment, before whipping a tempting ball across the face of goal and for a moment Haaland’s eyes lit up. But the tiring forward could not quite reach it and Neuer watched calmly as the ball spun out for a goal kick. It was Haaland’s last involvement before hobbling off, replaced by the 17-year-old Giovanni Reyna.
Bayern come closest to scoring in final stages
In a final throw of the dice, Mario Götze was introduced against his former club in search of a fairy-tale ending to his second spell at Dortmund. But while the various yellow-shirted attacking midfielders swirled menacingly towards the Bayern goal, the reigning champions seemed quite comfortable swatting them away. In fact, in the final stages it was Bayern who came closest as Robert Lewandowski hit the post from distance and a close-range volley from Thomas Müller was blocked by Raphaël Guerreiro.
Visitors celebrate giant stride towards Bundesliga title
This game may have been different if there was the usual 80,000-strong crowd roaring Dortmund on but there was a distinct feeling that things were at their natural state as Bayern played out the final moments with ease. On the full-time whistle, several Bayern players let out a shout and clenched their fists, clearly feeling that their victory was a decisive one in the hunt for an eighth consecutive title.
It leaves them seven points clear of Dortmund, their closest rivals, and served to reassert their position as the Bundesliga’s best. With the tragic context and unusual circumstances of this season’s Bundesliga it will go down in history as one of the most unique in the competition’s history. Unique but for one detail; Bayern Munich will win it.
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