It was at the same point last season, though not in the calendar thanks to the pandemic, that this happened. Less than 10 games left in the season, Bayern Munich facing an away date against their closest rival and looking … well, vulnerable is too strong a word. Less godly, let’s say. The chasing team, in this case RB Leipzig (where last year it was Borussia Dortmund), needed a win to kick the title race in Germany into overdrive to close the season.
And in both cases, Munich came out with an efficient, soul-crushing, you-can’t-fight-the-wind 1-0 victory that puts the packing tape on the Bundesliga trophy for its shipping to Bavaria again, for the ninth-straight time.
This rival-smothering win wasn’t quite as darkly executed as last year’s was, but was still pretty thorough. Whereas last season Dortmund might have got a glimpse or two of the goal, Leipzig had more than a few. Sadly, for the neutral or Leipzig-inclined, their wayward finishing did them in. It was hard to not watch Marcel Sabitzer or Dani Olmo send a handful of prime chances off into the woods without wondering if Timo Werner wouldn’t have buried them (ok, not this Timo Werner, but the Leipzig version). Werner’s departure, and the 28 goals last season he took with him to Chelsea, has left a giant hole in the front line for Leipzig, and in the condensed offseason they didn’t really have time to close it. This was a team that piled up 81 goals in 34 league games last year, yet only have 48 in 27 so far this year. Their lack of sharpness in front of goal cost them in the Champions League, where a malfunctioning Liverpool side were there for the taking in the Round of 16, and it cost them any shot at the Bundesliga title yesterday.
Perhaps Leipzig manager Julian Nagelsmann will rue not being more aggressive in the first half, when his charges merely pawed at Munich along the wings and didn’t create much at all. When they finally went right at the heart of Munich through midfield and defense, they created almost all their chances. That’s where Munich have looked actually vulnerable at times this season. But 45 minutes of picking at it wasn’t enough. Maybe 90 would have.
This was also a Munich side that didn’t have Robert Lewandowski on hand, as he was out with a knee injury. The dropoff from him to Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting at center forward would be best described as “K2-esque.” Throw in the fact this was on the heels of a packed international break and teams barely having a practice or two, and it felt like for maybe the first time this decade, if there was ever a time Munich could be had, this was it.
No matter, Thomas Muller will just find someone else to assist. These days he could feed a drunk mule a prime enough chance that the nag couldn’t miss. Leon Goretzka is far superior to that mule, who scored the only goal of the game, after another clever Muller run, touch, and pass. Lather, rinse, repeat.
So Munich will toddle off with another title. And their biggest weakness this season, their defense, will be buttressed by the addition of the Bundesliga’s most promising defender next year in Dayot Upamecano, who just happens to play for Leipzig now. So they get to weaken their chief rival at the same time. At least it’s variety, as they usually pull this act on Dortmund (Lewandowski, Mats Hummels, Mario Goetze).
In a weird season where other dynasties have looked to crumble—Juventus in Serie A, Atletico Madrid still with a big chance to split the Real Madrid-Barcelona duopoly in Spain—Bayern remain inevitable.