As Erling Haaland sat on the bench, right boot and sock off, the reasons for his glum demeanour stretched beyond discomfort in his tended-to right foot that had contributed to curtailing his participation in Der Klassiker. It was about the pain of inevitability as he watched on, knowing his Borussia Dortmund had come so close to frustrating the champions, against the odds, only to stumble and fall with the finishing tape in sight.
The young Norwegian had almost foreseen it, speaking pre-game about how it seemed as if every time he scored, Robert Lewandowski – the only centre-forward in the Bundesliga classed as his superior – would bag a hat-trick for Bayern Munich, “as if it was the most normal thing in the world”. This game deserved more than being reduced to a vehicle for the duel between Haaland and the omnipotent Lewandowski – Lewandowski 3-2 Haaland – though the comparison works perfectly as Bayern and Dortmund in microcosm, or certainly did in this context. The mighty besting the might-be mighty, even if Haaland’s future does promise to dominate Europe in a way his current team can only dream of.
Despite Bayern’s eventual win – decided by neither of the headliners but an unerring finish from the magnificent Leon Goretzka, to break BVB hearts in the 88th minute – there had been a sentiment of relief for many watching around Germany and around the world, as this highlight of the domestic calendar didn’t turn into the cakewalk that has been so habitual at this venue in recent seasons. This was a seventh straight Bundesliga defeat at Allianz Arena for Dortmund, but their least chastening for a while. They had lost the previous six by an aggregate of 26-3, including 4-0, 5-0 and 6-0 defeats in the last three seasons; a Hamburg-esque record if ever there was one, almost in tribute to the absent, erstwhile top-flight ever-presents who were relegated in 2018.
It was something that Bayern themselves needed, as well as those who want to see them pushed and pulled out of their comfort zone did. “These games against Dortmund,” reflected Goretzka afterwards, “are very special to me.” The early-evening setting had all the ingredients to inspire Hansi Flick’s team to dig deep and find their best, with RB Leipzig’s highly impressive 3-0 win at Freiburg earlier in the afternoon meaning Bayern stepped on the field in the unusual role of chasers. There was not the immediate response with prejudice that might have been expected with Bayern caught cold at the off, 2-0 down inside 10 minutes to two Haaland strikes as Dortmund pressed with intent, snapping and yapping like a swarm of Scrappy-Doo facsimiles.
If Thomas Meunier had either found the net or found Haaland to do likewise in the 25th minute and make it three, the story might have been different but he did neither and shortly after, Lewandowski had scored from close-range to start the climb back to the status quo. In an age where many of us grumble that image-conscious players make a show of not celebrating goals against former clubs, the Pole has never shied away from his joy, which he has had every opportunity to embrace. When he expertly smashed in the clincher just after Goretzka’s dam-breaker, to seal his hat-trick, it made his tally 20 in 14 Bundesliga meetings alone since leaving Dortmund in 2014.
The visitors gasped for air. Their skipper Marco Reus complained to Sky that Leroy Sané’s challenge on Emre Can in the build-up to Goretzka’s crucial strike was “a very clear foul” and “if this foul had been on Bayern, he [referee Marco Fritz] would have whistled it, 100%. That’s just the way it is.” Can, incidentally, thought Fritz “could whistle for it, but doesn’t have to”.
Whether it should have been called or not, it was hard to see it as anything other than an emphatic response by Sané to his critics who have repeatedly said he should offer more on the defensive end of the game – not least Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who dug him out for just that very publicly after the recent defeat at Eintracht Frankfurt. The winger was incandescent all game, with his form perhaps underlined by the coup de grâce, his delicious dummy that opened up the space for Lewandowski to slam home the fourth. Without even touching the ball, Sané was pulling the strings.
The ease was in contrast with how Dortmund grafted and toiled to cling on, in unpromising conditions. They had arrived on the back of four successive wins but without the in-form Jadon Sancho – whose thigh injury sustained scoring the DfB Pokal winner against Mönchengladbach appears more serious than initially thought – as well as Raphaël Guerreiro and Gio Reyna. Coach Edin Terzić will still be able to rely on Haaland against Sevilla in the Champions League this week, but he was withdrawn after an hour here as part of a plan (“it was clear to us he wouldn’t be able to finish the game,” emphasised the coach) to manage an existing foot injury.
Haaland’s physical condition mirrors BVB’s position. The foundations of this season were set with something better in mind, but the attitude of make-do-and-mend is such that the season isn’t quite a write-off. The frustration of the former mindset is still there, with Can complaining that “if you only play well for 10 minutes against Bayern, it’s going to be tough”. Yet as sporting director Michael Zorc told Kicker, closing out this week’s Champions League tie “is a huge opportunity for us, both athletically and economically”. Maybe an evening competing with Bayern is the inspiration needed for that final push.
Leipzig quickly made light of their poor record at Schwarzwald – three successive defeats before Saturday – with Kevin Kampl providing the necessary snap in midfield, winning the ball back deep in home territory for the first two goals, by Christopher Nkunku and Alexander Sørloth. “We want to take the momentum into the Champions League now, to try to beat Liverpool and to make it to the quarter-finals,” said sporting director Markus Krösche.
Leverkusen won the battle of the struggling contenders at Gladbach that nobody dared lose, with Patrik Schick’s against-the-run-of-play goal giving Peter Bosz’s side a first win in six, which was heartily celebrated. “We’re all very tense at the moment,” said Gladbach’s Hannes Wolf. They are without a win in seven and have lost five straight since Marco Rose’s departure was confirmed.
What worked well for Dortmund was that their Champions League rivals, apart from Leverkusen, had below-par weekends. Wolfsburg surprisingly went down at Hoffenheim and didn’t deal too well with the adversity, with Paulo Sérgio’s outrageous late foul on Mounes Dabbur and striker Wout Weghorst blowing his top with a Sky touchline reporter afterwards, while Eintracht Frankfurt were held at home by Stuttgart.
Relief for Hertha, with a first win for returning boss Pal Dardai clinched by a late Dodi Lukebakio penalty against Augsburg, awarded for a rash Mads Pedersen challenge. “He didn’t need to go in,” lamented the visitors’ sporting director Stefan Reuter.