Germany’s record champions may have drawn on Saturday but the Bavarians are well on their way to yet another Bundesliga title
There was a strange sensation going into the year’s fourth edition of Bayern Munich against Borussia Dortmund, especially given the importance with which recent encounters have been laced. This game was shaping up as the least significant one of 2012 and that says something when one of the matches was the German Super Cup, a seemingly irrelevant pre-season encounter.
Yet it was even then that Bayern Munich laid down the law to the Champions for this season. The Bavarians newly found strength in depth was prominent that day. Still, few expected there to be an eleven point gap between Bayern and Borussia by the time they next played.
After all, Borussia Dortmund had been all conquering for the last two seasons but have been left in Bayern’s wake, as they’ve suffered something of a European hangover. But in order to acquire this hangover, boy, have the Black and Yellows had some good nights. They’ve cruised through the Champions League’s Group of Death, impressively taking four points off Real Madrid in the process.
But the high standards of their European performances haven’t been matched domestically. Injuries haven’t helped but if anything, it’s just shown how well Bayern did in their effort to strengthen over the summer, with the likes of Mandzukic, Shaqiri and Dante performing with distinction. With Dortmund dropping points at home to newly promoted Fortuna during the week, Bayern’s lead over the champions moved into double figures.
No matter what Saturday brought, Bayern were going to be in a strong position after the game. Even though the title looked (and indeed looks) a foregone conclusion, it was a match Borussia Dortmund could not afford to lose, and they didn’t – just.
The away side had the better chances in the first half with Marco Reus testing Manuel Neuer but the game didn’t have many clear-cut opportunities. It opened up after Bayern centre back Holger Badstuber was carried off towards half time with a cruciate ligament injury – a painful blow to the home team, with the defender expected to miss the rest of the season. It was in the second half when Badstuber’s absence became more apparent.
That said, Bayern were getting into good positions but failing to provide that killer pass. Dortmund meanwhile were creating chances at more regular intervals. Adventurous centre back Mats Hummels scuffed a volley from Marcel Schmelzer’s quick free kick, whilst Schmelzer and Marco Reus also missed opportunities. You can’t do that against Bayern this season and not expect ramifications, as Toni Kroos proved. He showed seamless technique as he fired in the opener low, from the edge of the box after good work from Thomas Müller.
Kroos has been one of the stars of the season so far, if not the star and this strike midway through the second half only affirmed this. So with Bayern a goal up at the Allianz Arena, there’s usually one outcome but for the first time in nearly three years, the Bavarians didn’t win a Bundesliga home game when taking the lead.
Bayern found out first hand last season that Jürgen Klopp’s side don’t do “giving up,” after the way BVB caught them in the title race. Just in case this was doubted in any way, Borussia Dortmund equalised seven minutes after Kroos’s strike.
Marco Reus’s corner found its way to the edge of the box where Mario Götze was placed. Before the game, he said he thought the Champions could still retain their title. Judging by the conviction with which he struck the ball for Dortmund’s equaliser, he wasn’t joking either. The teenage prodigy sent a crisp half volley into the corner of Manuel Neuer’s goal. With just a quarter of an hour to go, Borussia looked to have the momentum but it was Bayern who finished the game in much stronger fashion.
So much so that Roman Weidenfeller became the hero for Dortmund, receiving praise from opposition coach Jupp Heynckes after the game. He added that he couldn’t believe that Weidenfeller had not been capped by Jogi Löw for Germany. This feeling of disbelief stemmed from three outstanding saves the Dortmund keeper made late on. First came an instinctive block, followed by an acrobatic tip over the bar before finishing with a one handed dive to his left from a Javi Martinez header.
Still, it ended up just being an exercise in preservation for Weidenfeller and Borussia Dortmund. Because as much as the Champions will say there’s still life left in the title race, it’s hard to see anyone stopping Bayern Munich. Bayer Leverkusen are the nearest side to them but they won’t hit the consistency required to topple Heynckes’s team.
Borussia Dortmund are the only club who have what it takes to come close but with Champions League football guaranteed in the second half of the season, they currently lack the resources to mount a challenge on both fronts. And whilst it’s sad as a neutral to be writing off the title race in December, you just have to applaud the way Bayern Munich have responded to last season.
Runners up in the Bundesliga, the DFB-Pokal and the Champions League, their focus has been unmatched in Germany this time round as they’ve torn through the division. You could only criticise their performances on the European stage which, despite seeing them through the group stages, will need to improve after Christmas. Still, after crushing defeats at the hands of Borussia Dortmund in the year’s first two editions of der Klassiker, Bayern Munich have responded well in the second half of 2012. Jupp Heynckes will be all the more satisfied knowing that Bayern won’t just be clear of Dortmund at Christmas, they’ll be top of the Bundesliga too.
Elsewhere in the Bundesliga:
Matchday 15 Results:
Fortuna Düsseldorf 4-0 Eintracht Frankfurt
Augsburg 1-1 Freiburg
Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 Nuremberg
Fürth 0-1 Stuttgart
Mainz 2-1 Hannover
Schalke 1-1 Gladbach
Bayern Munich 1-1 Borussia Dortmund
Hoffenheim 1-4 Werder Bremen
Wolfsburg 1-1 Hamburg
|1||FC Bayern Munich||15||12||2||1||41:6||+35||38||CL*|
|2||Bayer 04 Leverkusen||15||9||3||3||28:19||+9||30||CL*|
|4||FC Schalke 04||15||7||4||4||25:19||+6||25||CL* Qual.|
|5||Eintracht Frankfurt||15||7||3||5||27:26||+1||24||EL* Qual.|
|6||1. FSV Mainz 05||15||7||2||6||21:18||+3||23||EL* Qual.|
|8||SV Werder Bremen||15||6||3||6||26:24||+2||21|
|14||1. FC Nuremberg||15||4||4||7||14:21||-7||16|
Table taken from official Bundesliga website