FC Bayern München demolished Borussia Dortmund 5:0 last weekend. Great… or is it? The convincing Bavarian performance brings up several questions and confusion.
What it means for the Bundesliga
Did anyone say “lack of competitive depth” in the league? Critics of the Bundesliga correctly point out that the rivalry between FCB and BVB is fragile, if it even exists. They have a point.
Back when Jürgen Klopp led the yellow and black to greatness from 2011 to 2013, BVB represented a consistent and credible (sometimes incredible) threat to the Bavarian dominance in Germany. They were so strong that Bayern’s 3:0 win in November 2013 felt surreal. It was the most convincing result in several years.
Fast-forward to today, and what is inexcusably nicknamed Der Klassiker is not a genuine sporting rivalry. Bayern have won 57% of the matches since 2012, including four routs. The two teams drew 21% of the time, and BVB won 21% of the time. The remaining 1% disappears when you round down the numbers. Right when BVB lead a major German title challenge in 2018-19, they get smashed in the most critical match of the season.
This reality is unhealthy for both Bayern and the Bundesliga. The Reds need strong domestic competition to bring the best out of them at home and in Europe.
The league itself needs more credibility in the eyes of outsiders. In the absence of at least one major rival, casual football fans can reasonably find battles between the English Premier League’s top six sides more exciting to follow.
With that in mind, I will not predict a seventh straight Bundesliga title for Bayern yet. The Bavarians can still drop points, and BVB can again do well in April and May. Only one point separates the two teams, and everything is still on the line. Hopefully.
What it means for Bayern
Beyond domestic competition, Bayern can draw lessons from the weekend’s action.
Is Niko Kovač able to take a major European team forward? Can he adapt his tactics? The scintillating display of attacking football against Dortmund is a reassuring sign. It does not replace the need for a squad overhaul to deal with a generational change in the summer, but it shows the ability to react under pressure.
However, the win fails to address glaring inconsistency.
Many Bayern fans wonder why FCB have not played better football against Liverpool in Champions League Round of 16. The absence of key players such as Joshua Kimmich and Kingsley Coman had an impact, but it did not explain everything.
An uncomfortable nugget of truth lies in the shadows: a poorly understood level of passion among the players throughout the season. Lack of running and eagerness to win were visible in many Bundesliga games. Fear of going forward in the return leg at home against Liverpool was apparent.
Also, media rumours swirled around individual players. Guys such as David Alaba and Mats Hummels have had terrible moments, but they have seemingly recovered. Question marks remain regarding James Rodríguez (despite a few brilliant displays) and Jérôme Boateng (chronic problem).
The Müncheners cannot say “mission accomplished” after crushing BVB. That logic still holds even in the event of a league title win. Their membership in Europe’s select circle of top contenders is yet to be renewed.
What it means for BVB
I reckon that many commentators are more qualified than I am to analyze Dortmund’s situation, but I still perceive a lack of squad depth at Lucien Favre’s disposal.
BVB had limited options on Saturday due to the absence of Paco Alcácer, Raphael Guerreiro, Achraf Hakimi and Christian Pulisic. However, Bayern were also without sidelined players such as Corentin Tolisso and Arjen Robben. A longer bench made up for it for most of the season.
To become a formidable threat in Germany and Europe, Borussia Dortmund need to preserve and reinforce the very promising core of players at hand. Making “like for like” swaps as well as a healthy rotation possible would boost their title hopes in all competitions.
It may be a daunting task for the Ruhr side to reach that point. The transfer budget is not an obstacle thanks to the financial generosity of FC Barcelona and Chelsea FC. However, keeping a core of top performers is troublesome when the likes of Bayern, Real Madrid, Barcelona and English clubs circle Dortmund’s exotic waters every summer. They can lure players with the promise of high wages.
Consequently, the enduring success that would turn BVB into a first-tier European powerhouse remains elusive. As a Bayern fan, I now wish for this vicious cycle to end. Strong rivals are needed. It’s as simple as that.
This year’s edition of Germany’s top clash has exposed the shortcomings at BVB. It can temporarily cover up the gap that separates Bayern and Europe’s elite. It provided us with more questions than definite answers.
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