MUNICH, Germany — “Gegen Bayern kann mal verlieren” (“You can lose against Bayern”) is what the hardcore home fans in the Allianz Arena south stand were chanting sarcastically at the final whistle. Yes, you can — but not like this. Not if you’re two points clear of the Reds at the top of the table with seven games to go and a big chance to win your first championship in seven years.
For all the good things the home side did in their 5-0 win — and there were many — it was mostly down to Borussia Dortmund that the most eagerly awaited league game in half a decade turned out to be an almost cruel non-contest. Lucien Favre’s men disgraced themselves with an inept performance of catastrophic proportions on Saturday night.
In anticipation of a red storm, the visitors took to the pitch in a defensive formation with three central midfielders. Mahmoud Dahoud, the extra man in the centre, hit the outside of the post after a beautifully choreographed attack down Bayern’s left side on six minutes, but BVB never got close to scoring again after that. Instead, their longstanding vulnerability from crosses made them the softest of targets for a Bayern side fuelled by big-game mentality and determination.
Three of the four goals (from Mats Hummels, Javi Martinez and Serge Gnabry) the Black and Yellows conceded before the break came from simple high balls into the box. The other one was softer still: Dan-Axel Zagadou gave the ball away for Robert Lewandowski to score his 200th goal in the Bundesliga and make it 2-0 after just 17 minutes. Bayern could scarcely believe the ease with which they opened up a defence not worthy of its name.
“It was unbelievable. I’ve rarely experienced such an atmosphere in the stadium,” Thomas Müller said. “We were on it from the very first second, and our energy lit up the crowd.” Dortmund’s collapse, by contrast, was eerily reminiscent of their second-half capitulation against Tottenham Hotspur in their 3-0 Champions League defeat at Wembley. Said BVB sporting director Michael Zorc, “We were mentally not able to cope with the game tonight.” Or, as Dortmund midfielder Thomas Delaney put it more succinctly, “we got schooled.”
There had been extenuating circumstances against Spurs, namely injuries at the back and an overall inexperience within this Dortmund squad at the international level. Both were factors once more on Saturday but cannot begin to excuse a total breakdown in organisation at the back. Instead of building themselves a platform from which to take advantage of Bayern’s structural problems in midfield, Favre’s men tripped themselves up.
“It’s one thing to talk about being courageous all week, and another to show it on the pitch,” a dejected Marco Reus said. “We saw today that we were still miles away from being competitive against Bayern, tactically and in terms of focus and application. We have to be very honest about the mistakes we made.”
Unsettled by their own incompetence, Dortmund were so drained of confidence on the ball that they rarely strung more than a couple of passes together before conceding another scoring chance. Gareth Southgate, in Munich to keep tabs on Jadon Sancho, couldn’t have seen less of the 19-year-old if he’d sat in the VIP section blindfolded. Reus hardly fared better.
The best that could be said about their ill-fated trip to the Bavarian capital is that it’ll be almost impossible to play as poorly again in their remaining six games. Even though this felt like a result to decide the destination of the Bundesliga title, it’s still in the balance: a deficit of one point is not insurmountable, the gulf of class notwithstanding.
Bayern, on the other hand, left the pitch with the crowd in raptures. The psychological advantage is firmly with Niko Kovac’s side after administering this beatdown with aplomb. In truth, they were hardly tested on Saturday, but the ruthless efficiency of their game, as well as that of a lineup that found space for the 2013 heroes Martinez and Thomas Muller, to provide energy and guile, will be seized upon at Bayern’s home base, Sabener Strasse, as evidence that fears over their demise have been exaggerated.
“We wanted to show that we can beat a big team, and the attitude was top-class today,” Manuel Neuer said. Their best might no longer be quite good enough to challenge in Europe, but against a Dortmund side this fragile, it’s more than enough. Whether that’s ultimately good news or case for grave concern is a matter of interpretation. Saturday night, however, was no time for such introspection.
“We can enjoy the moment; we can be happy for one or two days,” Müller said with a smile as Bayern begin to celebrate their return to the very top, the only place they truly feel comfortable.