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It was a familiar tale for Borussia Dortmund. Their match against Bayern Munich was one of the fine margins that could have gone either way. Yet by the time the final whistle sounded at Signal Iduna Park, it was Bayern who were celebrating.
That description could be applied to the Bavarians’ 1-0 victory in May or their 3-2 triumph on Saturday. The former win was of more immediate importance, moving Hansi Flick’s side seven points clear of Dortmund in the Bundesliga table. It was a lead they would go on to extend in subsequent weeks, with Bayern ultimately finishing 13 points clear of the chasing pack as they added another Bundesliga gong to their collection the last term.
It is far too early in the season to attach a similar degree of importance to Saturday’s success, but Bayern’s win at Signal Iduna Park made it clear that they are once again the team to beat in the top flight of German soccer in 2020/21.
RB Leipzig may be just two points adrift and Dortmund only a point further back, but league leaders Bayern are overwhelming favorites to finish the campaign atop the table. DraftKings Sportsbook offer -1115 on that eventuality, with Dortmund available at odds of +800 and RB Leipzig a distant third at +1600. If Bayern do win the title again this term, they will look back at Saturday’s triumph as one of the most decisive of their season.
Expected Goals is a statistic that measures chance quality, and it was in Dortmund’s favor at the weekend. The hosts registered 2.31 to Bayern’s 1.34, and although that does not necessarily mean Dortmund deserved to win the game, it does show that they had little trouble creating chances against the champions.
It also shows the extent to which Bayern was clinical with the opportunities that fell their way. It was they who started the brighter, with Robert Lewandowski slamming a shot into the side-netting within the opening minute (much to the annoyance of Serge Gnabry, who thought he was better placed to take on the shot).
Dortmund also had some positive moments early on. With Bayern pressing in advanced areas and holding their customary high defensive line, Lucien Favre’s side was not afraid to play long passes in behind the opposition’s back four. They particularly targeted the space in behind Bayern right-back Bouna Sarr, who was the weak link in the visitors’ rearguard.
Bayern’s high line can be risky at times, but they usually got their positioning right here. Erling Haaland’s speed was threatening but the striker was caught offside on several occasions, as Bayern squeezed up at the optimum moment. Nevertheless, it was Dortmund who took the lead, with Marco Reus firing home after a fine cut-back by Raphael Guerreiro, who had got to the byline down the left after Corentin Tolisso failed to track his run.
Having world-class players on your side means you always have a chance – and so it proved in this encounter. On the stroke of half-time, David Alaba – who celebrated his 200th win in the Bundesliga on Saturday – stepped up to dispatch a free-kick and draw Bayern level. Replays showed that his effort had taken a deflection on its way in, but it was a well-worked set-piece and came at a critical moment in the game.
Indeed, the outcome might have been different had Dortmund gone in at the break with a 1-0 lead. Instead, it was Bayern who had their tails up at the start of the second period, and they edged ahead in the 48th minute thanks to a brilliant header from Robert Lewandowski. It was the Poland international’s 11th goal in six Bundesliga outings this season, a tally that is both extraordinary and ordinary when you consider who it belongs to.
From that point on Bayern were unlikely to leave empty-handed, and they did a good job of controlling proceedings over the next few minutes. Kingsley Coman struck the post soon after Lewandowski’s goal, but Dortmund gradually got back into the game. Yet although Haaland was a constant threat, his final ball let him down at times, while Jadon Sancho flitted in and out of the game.
An electric counter-attack from Bayern resulted in the game’s fourth goal, as Leroy Sane found the bottom corner of the net. However, Haaland cut the deficit back to one just three minutes later, expertly controlling a pass over the top and rounding Manuel Neuer before converting.
It was a case of too little, too late for Dortmund, though, and Haaland was self-critical afterward. “I have to score more goals,” he said. “If we don’t put our chances away at this level, then we won’t win.”
That was an accurate assessment of the game as a whole. Just like in May, Dortmund was not outplayed by Bayern, but their failure to make the most of the opportunities they created proved costly. There is a long way to go this season but history tells us that Bayern does not drop too many points, so losing the Klassiker is always a blow for BVB.
In that sense, the international break has probably come at a good time. Favre’s players will jet off to represent their countries and temporarily put the Bundesliga title race out of their minds. It gives Dortmund time to regroup and go again, with a trip to Hertha Berlin their next assignment in a fortnight’s time.
For Bayern, this was a huge victory that shows they deserve to be heavy favorites once more – even if Flick believes there is still room for improvement.
The Bayern boss said:
It was a sensational game. There was an incredible amount of quality out on the pitch and there were a lot of chances at both ends. We were a bit more clinical, more efficient in front of goal. The win was more than deserved. Dortmund were dangerous when we made mistakes. We need to be more patient so that we don’t have situations like that as often.
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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