Battling Bayern outgunned by dynamic Dortmund in five-goal thriller

In what was the biggest match of the season so far, FC Bayern München had the upper hand for most of the game against old rivals Borussia Dortmund. In the end, there was not quite enough in the tank as Niko Kovač’s men fell to a 2:3 defeat at the Signal Iduna Park.

After a number of lucklustre performances, FC Bayern gave their all against their biggest title rivals. They played their best 45 minutes of the season in the first half. They twice took the lead. But it was not quite enough. The defeat leaves Die Roten seven points adrift of the league leaders.

After six years of dominance in the Bundesliga, many Bayern fans wanted more of a challenge. Dortmund have laid down the gauntlet.

No rotation, plenty of commitment

With Arjen Robben still unable to play, the Bayern coach stuck with the same eleven that had started against AEK Athens in midweek. The decision not to rotate at least a couple of players was a little surprising, more so with James Rodríguez again on the bench.

Bayern looked to impose themselves right from the kick off, and inside the first ten minutes a clear pattern had been set. While the Bavarians looked to hold the ball and apply pressure, Dortmund coach Lucien Favre was happy to see his side absorb and counterattack.

If there were any concerns about the commitment of the Bayern players, this was not apparent when the two teams locked horns in front of a typically raucous Dortmund crowd. Franck Ribéry was one man who stood out. The veteran Frenchman quickly imposed himself on young speedster Jadon Sancho, sniping and snapping like a man half his age.

A deserved lead

Despite my dislike of the media-spun term Der Klassiker, it was fairly evident from early on that this was going to turn into a classic encounter, a bout between two established heavyweights. Bayern-bias aside, it was the perfect advert for German football and the Bundesliga.

With nine minutes on the clock, Lucien Favre’s side showed just why they have been so dangerous this season – and why Bayern had to be on their guard. When the Reds were dispossessed in midfield, Marco Reus was suddenly bearing down on goal. The Dortmund skipper could only hit the ball straight at Manuel Neuer, but the signal had been sent.

There was an energetic ebb and flow to the contest. Two minutes after Reus’s chance, there were shouts for a penalty at the other end when Lewandowski went down in the box. Four minutes later Sancho had a chance, but was brilliantly denied by Neuer. As those of us watching struggled for breath, a lovely ball from Joshua Kimmich found Ribéry, whose first-time effort skidded wide.

Bayern now had the bit between their teeth. A lovely exchange between Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry saw the winger get a good sight of goal, but his effort was well blocked by Manuel Akanji. Ribéry then danced past Łukasz Piszczek and opened up the Dortmund defence, but his cross was agonisingly in front of Thomas Müller.

On 26 minutes, the pressure finally told. With the home side unable to get out of their own half, Bayern recycled the ball to launch another attack. Kimmich found Gnabry, whose perfectly-weighted cross was met by the flying Lewandowski. Dortmund ‘keeper Marwin Hitz could only watch as the back of the net bulged.

A fantastic 45 minutes

Sensing their opponents’ weakness, the Bavarians kept their foot firmly on the pedal. When Julian Weigl was robbed of the ball, Ribéry again was in on goal, but his shot was well parried by Hitz. It would have capped a superb first half for the Frenchman.

Meanwhile, a frustrated Dortmund were starting to collect yellow cards, with both Okanji and Weigl finding their way into the referee’s notebook.

When the two teams went in at half time, it closed what had been a fantastic 45 minutes for the visitors. It was arguably the best single half of Bayern’s season, and nothing more could have been asked of the players. There had been commitment, pressure, and the crucial goal.

All we needed was another 45 minutes of the same.

End to end battle

If the first half had been packed with tension and drama, things exploded in the second. After all of their hard work in the first half, it was one loose moment that allowed Dortmund back into the contest. Marco Reus charged into the Bayern box, and Neuer was just a little too slow in reacting. The ‘keeper reached for the ball, but quickly realised that he was not going to get there. Too late. With nowhere to go, Reus took the expected tumble.

It was soft decision, but no Bayern fan would have complained had it been given at the other end. The Dortmund skipper stepped up and smashed the ball past Neuer, to loud cheers from the Gelbe Wand.

Bayern could have buckled, but fought back immediately. The men in red stormed straight back into the Dortmund half, and the defence were unable to clear their lines. Müller and Gnabry caused panic among the yellow-shirted defenders, allowing Kimmich to dink the ball into the danger area. Lewandowski made it look easy as he headed home from close range.

Bayern’s second goal gave the home side another shot in the arm, and the gloves were off. It was now an end to end contest. A minute short of the hour mark, a close-range effort from Reus was heroically cleared off the line by Kimmich. A minute later, Lewy had the ball in the net, only to be flagged for offside.

The momentum swings back

It was at this point where the momentum started to swing back towards Dortmund. Favre had made some smart changes off the bench, and his team slowly started to turn the screw the other way. Just moments after the flag had gone up against Lewy, there was a heart-in-mouth moment. Mats Hummels lost the ball, and was only saved by Boateng, whose last-ditch clearance prevented Paco Alcácer from scoring the equaliser. Moments later, Reus sent another good chance wide.

The pressure was all on Bayern now, and this time they buckled. Having missed two relative sitters, Reus met Piszczek’s cross superbly, volleying the ball past Neuer and into the bottom left-hand corner in the 67th minute. With the visitors out on their feet, Favre’s men started to smell Bavarian blood.

Just six minutes later, the Westphalians completed the perfect rope-a-dope. With the Bayern defence caught cold, a precise through ball from Witsel found Alcácer, who had plenty of time advance and line up his shot. Leaving Boateng in his wake and pursued by a leaden-footed Javi Martínez, the ex-Barcelona striker chipped the ball over Neuer.

In the stands, meanwhile, Uli Hoeneß and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge were doused in beer by Dortmund fans. Not the rank and file, but those in the VIP section.

Ah, Borussia Dortmund. Keeping it classy since 1909.

Last-minute drama

In previous weeks, Bayern would have been knocked out cold. We can all remember the Gladbach game. But this time, the players drew on every nerve and sinew as they sought a precious equaliser. They had buckled, but were not broken. Müller hit a shot narrowly over the crossbar before Ribéry, still going despite showing obvious signs of fatigue, had a shot blocked by Piszczek.

At the clock ticked towards the end of the ninety minutes, Bayern were again on top. Despite some curious changes off the bench by the coach, they were still throwing everything forward.

The drama would last right until the very end. Four minutes into additional time, Lewandowski had the ball in the Dortmund for the fourth time. There was a brief moment of elation, before the players and visiting fans saw the raised flag yet again.

In desperation, we all turned to the video referee, Nothing doing. It was not by much, but Lewy was offside.

Plenty of work to do

The defeat left Die Roten seven points behind the leaders, and three behind second-placed Borussia Mönchengladbach. By the end of the weekend, Bayern were back in fifth place, behind RB Leipzig and Eintracht Frankfurt, both of which registered 3:0 home wins.

A win would have got things back on track for Niko Kovač, but it is clear that here is plenty of work to do. Yes, there were some strange substitutions. It remains a mystery why Serge Gnabry cannot see out a full ninety minutes, or why James was still left sitting on the bench.

In the end, Bayern were less than a foot away from securing a point. But by the same token, Dortmund missed a number of excellent chances.

Even if the coach had made the “ideal” changes, would it have made any real difference? We just need to look at the respective benches. While Bayern were right down to the bare bones, Favre had plenty of firepower in reserve.

There is one thing we can take out of this. Despite the result, we finally got to see the real FC Bayern München. Had this team played the same way against the likes of Augsburg, Freiburg and Berlin, the gap at the top would have been a lot tighter.

One can only hope that the team can build on this performance. Dortmund are bound to slip up sooner or later, and the mission now is to chip away at the seven-point deficit.

Dominant seasons are great. We can all sit back, relax, and enjoy every game. But even this was not good enough for some fans, who for many years have yearned for a real contest. Well now we have that contest. Dortmund are right up there, and there are other challengers too.

Of course, it would be wonderful if Bayern can find their mojo, turn things around, and repeat last season’s dominant charge to the title. But would it not be even sweeter if we could take this all the way and snare the Meisterschale on the final Saturday?

Statistical Summary

Borussia Dortmund – FC Bayern München 3:2 (0:1)
Reus pen 48., 67., Paco Alcácer 73. / Lewandowski 26., 52.

Dortmund: Hitz – Piszczek, Akanji, Zagadou, Hakimi – Weigl (46. Dahoud), Witsel – Sancho, Reus (c), Bruun Larsen (82. Delaney) – M. Götze (59. Paco Alcácer)

FC Bayern: Neuer (c) – Kimmich, Boateng, Hummels (65. Süle), Alaba – Martínez, Goretzka – Gnabry (74. Renato Sanches), Müller (82. Wagner), Ribéry – Lewandowski

Referee: Manuel Gräfe (Berlin)
Attendance: 81,365

Yellow Cards: Weigl 29., Akanji 36., Hitz 90.+4. / Ribéry 55., Süle 87., Wagner 90.+4.
Red Cards: – / –

Shots: 11 / 10
Passes: 467 / 606
Completed Passes: 374 / 511
Pass Success: 80% / 84%
Possession: 43% / 57%
Fouls: 4 / 8
Offsides: 1 / 5
Corners: 0 / 6