A gala of attacking soccer
The first half of the match featured the most exciting, high-stakes attacking soccer we have seen this season. Both Bayern and Dortmund began with high pressing in search of an early goal. For Bayern that meant seeing Robert Lewandowski and Thiago Alcantara driving far up the pitch to harass Dortmund’s back line and Roman Bürki. While the match was fiercely contested throughout the first half, and Dortmund had several very dangerous chances, the Bavarian offense dominated, firing 16 shots and winning 4 corner kicks to Dortmund’s 4 shots. By about the 80th minute, that balance had evened out slightly to 21 shots to 10. But it was Dortmund that made their shots count. The result may disappoint us, but the aggressive style of play today was a good look for the Bundesliga.
When the center cannot hold: Thiago neutralized
For much of the match, Bayern’s key midfielder Thiago seemed cut off from the action, usually reduced to passing horizontally or back rather than driving forward. Thiago’s inability to break through offensively had everything to do with the determined marking of Julian Weigl, who dogged his steps throughout, and solid defense by Raphael Guerreiro. With Thiago contained, but usually distracting one or more of Dortmund’s midfielders, Bayern drove down the wings, especially the left patrolled by Ribery and David Alaba. At times, Dortmund’s defense struggled to stop the onslaught, but Bayern’s inability to strike from the middle would prove their undoing. Carlo Ancelotti eventually sent Thomas Müller on for Xabi Alonso to bolster the offense, but by then it was too late.
Scoring with center-backs (but nothing else)
Bayern took a 2:1 lead thanks to an unusual combination of goal-scorers: their two starting center-backs, Javi Martinez and Mats Hummels. Javi, of course, was also responsible for Dortmund’s go-ahead goal. With that blot on his conscience, he made some of the best and most important set-piece shots of the season: a game-tying header and another shot off the post moments later. Mats Hummels followed suite with a surprise goal of his own: seemingly out of nowhere, he appeared in Dortmund’s penalty area and on the receiving end of a crisp inside pass from Franck Ribery. He slotted it into the net, giving Bayern the lead. The odd score sheet, however, also reflected the failure of Bayern’s offense to capitalize on several defensive blunders by the guests - above all Roman Bürki's utterly baffling misplayed pass to Thiago in his own penalty area.
Dortmund feast on Bayern's defensive blunders
With a battered Jerome Boateng on the bench, Javi Martinez had a poor game at the one time there was no margin for error. In the first half, caught in Dortmund’s press, he committed an inexcusable mental lapse and dropped a lazy back-pass to Ulreich at the feet of the dynamic Raphael Gurreiro, resulting in Dortmund's opening goal. Javi was also implicated in Dortmund’s second goal, losing track of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who tapped in a pass from Ousmane Dembélé at the far post. Javi was not alone, though: Dembélé also cut in behind David Alaba to receive the ball and - with some incredible footwork - shoot the game-winning goal. Dortmund's lightning-fast offense leaves very, very little room for error, but Bayern’s defense seemed unsure of itself when it mattered most. Mats Hummels may have been outstanding, but one out of four is three too few.
Where is this team headed?
Bayern find themselves in an unusual position: as losers - losing at home, now knocked out of both the Champions League and the DFB Pokal. None of us is blind to the unfavorable circumstances in which they crashed out of the Champions League. This loss, however, seems to bring to the fore many of the persistent problems that have beset the Ancelotti era. To name some that come first to mind: the lack of rotation and likely fatigue among starters, the heavy reliance on Thiago, the crisis of form and benching of former game-winning totem Thomas Müller, David Alaba’s consistently poor form, and a strange but all too frequent inability to translate shots taken into goals. Now Bayern’s ambitions have shrunk from a triple (“quaddle,” counting the BunDucksLiga!) to maintaining a narrowing lead in the Bundesliga. Bayern should still clinch this year’s title, but now after five games without a win, and elimination from two competitions, the front office surely must ask itself serious questions about the future of the club under Ancelotti.