Bayern Munich took another step in asserting their dominance by eliminating their bogey team from the German Cup. After six straight matches in the league and Cup without a win, Bayern finally overcame Dortmund thanks to a brilliant Arjen Robben goal in the first half. Bayern are through to the semifinals, but more importantly, they finally broke their Dortmund duck and did so in a fashion not seen since against them since 2010.
Bayern played its best football against Borussia Dortmund in a long time. The hosts were in complete control throughout the match and had several chances to make the scoreline more one sided than it turned out in the end. Ironically enough, it was Franck Ribery’s replacement, Robben, who made the difference in the end but it was another great team performance from Bayern overall.
Bayern outshot Dortmund 15 to 8 in this one. In fact, it took Dortmund until the 52nd minute to force a save from Manuel Neuer. Before that, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos and Javi Martinez all had chances to score but were either not accurate enough or met by Weidenfeller who came up big for Dortmund yet again. The entire first half belonged to Bayern though and while Dortmund got more involved in the game in the second half, the hosts maintained a comfortable level of control on the game until the final whistle.
As they’ve done throughout the season, Bayern were calm and composed while Dortmund uncharacteristically struggled to get a foot in the game. Bayern’s dominance was evident when Dante intercepted a ball at the halfway line and played himself into position in Dortmund’s box, almost finishing the play he started seconds earlier. Subotic and Santana meanwhile were relegated to clearing and launching the ball out of Dortmund’s box with no direction.
Jürgen Klopp had the right idea when he set up with three central midfielders, Grosskreutz tucking in alongside Bender and Gündogan like he did in the Champions League, but it never quite worked out and he ended up taking him off in the second half. Dortmund’s inability to match Bayern’s pressure and inaccuracy playing forward all culminated in their worst performance against Bayern since their 5-1 loss back in 2009. It’s only the second time in 37 matches this year that Dortmund have failed to score goal. Meanwhile, Bayern have conceded just eight goals in 27 league and Cup matches. A contrast that further underlines the gap between the two sides this season.
Where the Game was won
- Midfield battle: Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez again showed why they might be the world’s best central midfield pairing at the moment. The pair overran Gündogan and Sven Bender in the middle and covered for Philipp Lahm and David Alaba brilliantly out wide. All the while, they carried the ball forward with great accuracy and security, never compromising their defense and always assisting Robben, Kroos and Müller when needed. Simply put, the two gave Bayern the ability to absorb whatever pressure Dortmund applied and maintain a level of stability and control throughout the game.
- Mario Mandzukic: He doesn’t have the technique of Lewandowski or puts up the numbers of Mario Gomez but one would struggle to find a more hard-working striker in the business right now. The Croatian striker put his body on the line, constantly challenged for the ball and won numerous important duels in Dortmund’s half. He was unlucky not to score thanks to another outstanding performance from Roman Weidenfeller but in the form that he is in and the attributes he provides, Heynckes will not drop him.
- Squad depth: The ability of Bayern to rest players like Thomas Müller, Daniel van Buyten, Toni Kroos, David Alaba, Mario Mandzukic and Bastian Schweinsteiger, as Heynckes did ahead of this game, has given them the edge over their competitors this season. The players stay fit, thrive because of the competition and the team maintains a consistent level of performance across all competitions. Heynckes always loved to rotate as a coach, he was just never given a complete squad to do so at Bayern. This season he has exactly that and the results are there for all to see.
Where the Game was lost:
- Hummels’ absence: One player’s absence is obviously not the sole reason they lost this game but few players have the kind of influence on their team than Mats Hummels for Dortmund. Dortmund’s back line were all over the place. A communication breakdown and failure to clear the ball led to Robben’s goal and the team was missing the trademark balls out of the back that Hummels usually provides with such great accuracy. Instead of probing Bayern’s defense with passes like that, Dortmund were limited to hoofing the ball aimlessly out of the back, hoping to avoid a goal instead.
- Fatigue: Also, whereas Bayern have benefitted tremendously from their squad depth and Jupp Heynckes’ willingness to rotate this season, Dortmund have more or less been forced to send out the same eleven every week. Sometimes even twice a week. Lukasz Piszczek even decided to delay his hip surgery so he can play, albeit in great pain. There was a clear sense of fatigue and missing fitness levels against Bayern, something that is uncharacteristic of this usually spruce and energetic Dortmund.
- Lack of tactical variety: A lot of this is down to Bayern’s excellent defending and organization but this is a problem Dortmund have come across several times this season. When Schweinsteiger dropped into defense to shore up the back line, Dortmund continued to play passes into the same areas, turning possession over every time. When teams don’t press Dortmund, they are free to play their quick direct football but when they are, they struggle to retain the ball and are taken completely out of their comfort zone. Each individual was forced to take initiative themselves rather than play at their collective best.
The win was also the last symbolic barrier in fully tilting the power back in Bayern’s favor after Dortmund had so thoroughly dominated them over the past two years. Every time Bayern have eliminated Dortmund in the Cup they went on to win it, and with their historic lead in the league, a domestic double at least is very realistic for the club this season.
Header courtesy of AP/dpa