While the return of the Bundesliga has provided something to watch and discuss (and something of a roadmap for how other leagues could get back on the field), what it couldn’t promise was actual drama, especially in its title race. This afternoon, as is their way, Bayern Munich eliminated any chance of that with a 1-0 win over Borussia Dortmund. It could be argued that in a point in history when a return to what we once knew is nigh-on impossible, some constants can provide a strange, cold (or chilling) comfort. Pizza debates, Pearl Jam being overrated, and Munich winning the title at a canter appear to be coming with us into whatever lies ahead.
Dortmund had come into this one having not lost at home this season, nor having been held off the scoresheet at the Westfalenstadion in over two years. Both of those marks fell today in a performance from Munich that was as methodical as it was absent of hope.
The match started as anyone would have hoped, with both teams throwing haymakers at each other. Dortmund were at or near their free-flowing, 4x100 best on the counter, repeatedly finding space behind newest phenom Alphonso Davies (that didn’t stop Davies from having a major influence on the match, as he snuffed out one of Dortmund’s best chances with a 40-time that would make NFL scouts redefine their concept of love and/or lust).
Manuel Neuer had a couple nervy moments and Dortmund spurned a couple chances when he went on fact-finding missions around or outside his box. Munich created their own chances through more deliberate, yet elegant play, and Dortmund keeper Roman Burki was forced into a couple of big saves.
But as most everyone finds with Munich is that you can plan for just about anything and everything - you can try and pin Davies back or not give him space, you can have Mats Hummels blanket Robert Lewandowski, you can close up the spaces that Thomas Muller seems to find that no one else can—they have seven or eight different guys who can come up with moments of genius that you can’t plan for.
Enter Joshua Kimmich with this slice of Ozymandias:
Munich scoring first was just about the worst thing that could happen, at least for the neutral or Dortmund supporter, as it allowed them to concentrate on cutting off Dortmund’s main method of attacking, quick counters down the flanks, while they could also simply lie in wait for their own chances. It also allowed Kimmich to become the walls of Troy if they didn’t even have a gate, as he continually shut down anything Dortmund tried through the middle and on the edge of his own penalty area. Kimmich completed the second-most passes of anyone on the field, and had the most ball recoveries.
Dortmund were reduced more and more to Mahmoud Dahoud dribbling head-first into a phalanx of Munich defenders like a gathering of Simpson men. Jaden Sancho failed to provide much of anything when brought on at halftime, at least partially due to Munich’s insistence on not giving him any space. A second half introduction of Mario Goetze only succeeded in him looking more lost than a Beckett character, and Dortmund were out of ideas.
It’s fair to ask how this match might have played out in front of a fully packed stadium, as Signal Iduna Park is one of the more intimidating venues in the world. Or what if Dortmund had their full-strength midfield of Emre Can and Axel Witsel for the whole match, instead of the one that Kimmich and Leon Goretzka turned into a fine paste as the match wore on. It’s also fair to argue that none of it would have mattered, such has been Bayern’s brilliance and dominance since Hans-Dieter Flick took over as manager (a reign that started with a 4-0 thrashing of Dortmund, oddly and perfectly).
The result leaves Munich with a seven-point lead at the top with six matches to go. Seeing as how they’ve won 17 and drawn one of their last 18 matches, you’d need quite the telescope or mathematical theory to project them losing two and drawing another of their last six for anyone to have a sliver of hope they won’t claim their eighth-straight Bundesliga trophy. All that’s left now is how Leipzig, Leverkusen, and Monchengladbach will settle two Champions League places among them, and whether Dusseldorf can claw Mainz into a relegation scrap. The championship doesn’t have to start boxing up its things.
It was ever thus.