First versus second. Two great rivals, one trying to topple the recent dominance of the other. Borussia Dortmund versus Bayern Munich. Der Klassiker.
Bayern travelled to Dortmund knowing that victory over their rivals could all but secure them the Bundesliga title, putting them seven points clear of second with six games to play. Dortmund knew this was not just must-not-lose but must-win.
Favre opted for the same starting XI as the previous two fixtures, avoiding the temptation to throw Sancho and Can into such a huge game. Bayern made one change from Saturday’s 5-2 home win, bringing Gnabry in for Perisic.
It was a game that should have had an electrifying atmosphere, with the Dortmund faithful buoying their side for the fight. Instead, as with all the Bundesliga fixtures, it was played without atmosphere. Every shout from a player and kick of a ball reverberating around the empty stadium. However, despite the lack of a crowd to give them the edge, it was Dortmund who started the far better of the two sides, taking the game to their opponents. In fact, it was only one minute into the game when Neuer got to the ball to clear just ahead of Hazard, with the ball dropping to Haland who put the ball past Neuer only to see Boateng clear his effort off the line.
Dortmund looked to be be playing with confidence early on and moved the ball crisply and swiftly. After 10 minutes they had the ball in the net as Hazard squared for Hakimi to head in but Hazard was in an offside position following Hakimi’s initial miscued shot and the goal was rightly ruled out.
Against the run of play, on 19 minutes, it was Bayern’s turn to see a shot cleared off the line. Good work from Coman on the right hand side of the box saw him squeeze the ball back to Gnabry who dug out an effort which beat Bürki only for Piszczek to magnificently clear off the line. Bayern had regained a bit of control in the game following Dortmund’s early start but it was still the home side who looked more threatening going forward, particularly with their intricate play in the final third. However, the usual attacking influence of Hakimi at right wing-back was often stifled by the impressive and incredibly quick Alphonso Davies at left back for Bayern.
Haland continued to look dangerous and another chance fell his way as Hazard fed him a through ball which he may have done better with, seeing his left-footed shot blocked by Boateng. A few moments later Haland threatened again, stealing the ball and driving past Alaba only for a slightly loose touch to allow Davies to recover possession once again.
The game looked set to be heading to half-time goalless but Kimmich was determined to change that. In the 43rd minute the ball rolled back to Kimmich from the edge of the Dortmund box, the 25 year-old German took one touch to get the ball out his feet before dinking the ball from 20 yards. Bürki was left scrambling backwards towards his own goal-line and will feel he should have done better, only being able to push the ball back into his own net. The audacity of Kimmich’s effort caught him off guard though, and nothing should be taken away from the special effort.
Favre was not willing to hang around following the half-time break, immediately bringing on Sancho and Can for the restart, with Brandt and Delaney making way. Brandt may have felt hard done by after being involved in most things that Dortmund did well in the first half. Following his introduction Sancho showed signs of his lack of match sharpness with a few loose touches, perhaps understandably so given the high tempo of the game. He did get his customary nutmeg though, putting the ball through Muller’s legs with a sharp change of direction.
Dortmund struggled to create in the second half, although they may feel aggrieved to have not been given a penalty. Hazard squared the ball to Haland who took a touch before firing left-footed towards goal. Boateng had slipped and the ball appeared to strike his arm, deflecting the ball away from goal. There was little Dortmund appeal and VAR was not consulted but after watching the replay the Dortmund players will feel that at the very least VAR should have checked for handball.
Haland’s early influence on proceedings dwindled as the game went on and Dortmund began to look short of ideas and belief. However, when Haland went off injured in the 72nd minute, to be replaced by the 17 year-old Reyna, all hope of a comeback seemed to be sucked out of the Dortmund players. Hazard tried to operate in a false nine role but, without a striker as a focal point, Dortmund’s impressive build up lacked any end product. Bayern looked comfortable defending with no striker to mark and managed to see out the game to secure victory against their biggest title rivals in the Bundesliga this season.
This was a game that highlighted the gulf in quality in the two squads. Dortmund were without key men from the start with Sancho, Can and Witsel all on the bench and Reus still out injured. Bayern have injuries too, with Tolisso, Coutinho and Thiago noticeable absentees. However, once Favre had thrown on Sancho and Can at half time, his options looked very limited to change the game and the problem only having one first team striker in your squad carries was highlighted when Haland was forced off injured and Hazard was made to play as a makeshift striker. Compare this to Bayern, where Hans Flick was able to bring on Ivan Perisic, €80 million summer signing Theo Hernandez, and Javi Martinez to see the game out and the difficulty that is associated with bridging the gap for Dortmund is clear to see.
It looks incredibly unlikely that Bayern will drop enough points for Dortmund not to see this as the end of their title hopes, especially with the form Bayern have been in since the season resumed. Dortmund will be ruing missing their early chances and had they won it could have been one of the most exciting Bundesliga title races in recent memory, however it now looks as though they will be battling to secure second spot ahead of RB Leipzig.
Next for Bayern is a home fixture against lowly Fortuna Düsseldorf on Saturday, while Dortmund will be hoping to return to winning ways away at bottom side Paderborn on Sunday.