The Red Dragons gathered in force at the Bavarian Beerhouse for the much awaited “Klassiker” against Borussia Dortmund, and after a gritty encounter at the Signal Iduna Park that lacked the usual quality and gloss but contained plenty of drama and tension, a depleted and rejigged Bayern side did enough to score the crucial goal and hold firm to claim all three points. Despite the ongoing injury crisis, Dortmund were effectively shut down and closed out by what was a supreme team performance from Die Roten.
Having returned back to Bundesliga action after the international break Bayern not only had to cope with the absence of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry, but also David Alaba who had been ruled out for the best part of two months after sustaining a knee injury in a friendly for Austria against Bosnia-Herzegovina. With few options in midfield, coach Pep Guardiola was force to chance his tactics, and with little room for the usual rotation off the bench it was a case of truly knuckling down against an opponent unbeaten in their previous five outings.
The Bayern coach opted for a three man back line in front of ‘keeper Manuel Neuer. With Holger Badsruber unavailable with a slight knock, Jérôme Boateng was joined by the returning Medhi Benatia and Danté. There were rumblings among the watching Dragons about the shaky-looking Dreierkette – especially the unpredictable Danté – but perhaps even more worrying was the complete lack of additional defensive resources on the bench. We needn’t have worried.
In front of the back three Xabi Alonso provided the defensive midfield backbone with Rafinha and Juan Bernat operating out wide, while there was a distinctly defensive look further up the pitch with skipper Philipp Lahm making his first start after his return from injury alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger and the recalled Thomas Müller. Up front, Robert Lewandowski found himself in what looked like a more orthodox number nine role. While it was a clear that this formation was the direct result of resourcing problems, there was also the convenient fact that it was the perfect approach to take on a Dortmund side prone to errors.
In front of a capacity crowd of over eighty thousand on a cool Saturday evening in the Ruhrpott, Bayern were quick to settle down but with their more defensive approach were more than willing to allow the opponents longer spells on the ball. Within the opening twenty minutes it was clear that Guardiola had changed from his usual possession-based tactic, with the industrious midfield stifling the creativity of Dortmund danger men İlkay Gündoğan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Marco Reus. This was a Bayern side lack its usual spark and polish, but employing plenty of grit and intelligence. There were also far more bitty tackles than usual, with Xabi Alonso in particular getting well and truly stuck in.
The first thirty minutes breezed by – but then this always happens when you have a vested interest in the match. For neutrals, it would be fair to say that there was nothing much to speak of. Not one shot on goal, and not even one corner between the two teams. The battles were all taking place in the middle of the pitch, punctuated by the snappy tackling.
Then, nine minutes before half-time, the breakthrough. Lewandowski had played the number nine role perfectly against his old side, and managed to win the ball and get ahead of Mats Hummels to set up Müller, whose initial shot was blocked by BVB ‘keeper Roman Weidenfeller. However a rather fortuitous rebound saw the ball deflected back into the box, where Lewandowski was able to beat Marcel Schmelzer and find the back of the open net. The Pole refused to celebrate, but one couldn’t have written a better script.
Robert Lewandowski has the ball in the back of the Dortmund net, and Bayern are on their way to a well-worked victory
The visitors kept their shape well during the second half as Jürgen Klopp’s side looked to press them harder, and while Bastian Schweinsteiger (replaced after fifty-eight minutes by Sebastian Rode after getting what looked like a painful blow to his ankle) was slightly disappointing and Alonso was very sailing very close to the wind with his tackling, the back three of Boateng, Benatia and Danté all impressed. Boateng was his usual self and Benatia showed plenty of intelligence and positional awareness, but the revelation was Danté. Long seen by many critics – including this writer – as the weak spot in the Bayern back line, the popular, big-haired Brazilian produced what was arguably his best display of the season.
Dortmund were a lot more of a threat in the second half, and Reus flashed a shot narrowly wide of Neuer’s near post before Alonso was lucky to get away with what looked like a step on Aubemayang’s foot in the penalty area. Dortmund coach Klopp would complain bitterly after the game about the penalty that never was – as well as the broadcaster’s decision to interview him in front of the visiting Bayern fans – but it was the sort of break Die Roten deserved after putting the tried and tested approach aside and adapting excellently to both their situation and their opponents.
Right at the end, a well-struck free-kick from Reus looked to have been heading into the bottom corner to Neuer’s right, but with the gaffes against Mönchengladbach long behind him the Bayern ‘keeper pulled out a brilliant save right on the line as the Dortmund winger had started to celebrate. It was the final act as Bayern secured a well-deserved and hard-fought victory, and amidst all of the injury woes there was one bright moment: with just over twenty minutes remaining, Thiago Alcântara finally made his much-awaited comeback as he came on for Philipp Lahm.
The win keeps Bayern a clear ten points ahead of second-placed VfL Wolfsburg who dispatched bottom side VfB Stuttgart 3-1 at the Volkswagen Arena, and next week Guardiola’s side entertain eighth-placed Eintracht Frankfurt. However before that comes a bigger test in the quarter-finals of the DFB-Pokal, with the Bavarians taking on in-form Bayer 04 Leverkusen at the BayArena.
Man of the Match
This was truly a team performance, with everybody playing their part. The back three were excellent and Manuel Neuer was back at his brilliant best, but on his return to the Signal Iduna Park Robert Lewandowski gets the nod. He not only scored the winning goal, but made it too.
Bundesliga Week 27
Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund, 04.04.2015
Borussia Dortmund 0:1 (0:1) FC Bayern
– / Lewandowski 36.
Dortmund: Weidenfeller – Sokratis, Subotić, Hummels (c), Schmelzer – Gündoğan (79. Mkhitaryan), S. Bender – Blaszczykowski (67. Kagawa), Reus, Kampl (67. Ramos) – Aubameyang
FC Bayern: Neuer – Benatia, Boateng, Dante – Alonso – Rafinha, Bernat – Lahm (c) (69. Thiago), Schweinsteiger (58. Rode) – Müller (79. Götze) – Lewandowski
Yellow Cards: Schmelzer, Aubameyang / Alonso, Schweinsteiger, Rode