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Full circle: Bayern Munich’s season begins and ends with fireworks vs. RB Leipzig

How’s that for a storybook ending?

FC Bayern München v RB Leipzig - Bundesliga Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Bayern Munich fans are finding themselves glued to the screen for Borussia Dortmund games these days. Thanks to the Rekordmeister’s travails, Bayern have needed more than the usual amount of help from their rivals to win a tight Bundesliga title race.

The last few times it’s happened, BVB have obliged. But Bayern’s penultimate matchday collapse to RB Leipzig may finally prove one calamity too many.

What a turn this season has made. Last July, these two teams met for the season’s inaugural competitive fixture — the DFL-Supercup. For Bayern, questions swirled. Robert Lewandowski’s transfer window departure and last season’s Champions League exit were still fresh in the memory. How would Bayern find ways to score? Would Thomas Müller thrive without his usual partner in attack?

No problem, as it turned out. The Bavarians smashed Leipzig 5-3, with the losing side's goals largely coming in the game's quiet moments, the result having long been decided. Leipzig coach Domenico Tedesco could only be resigned to the sheer power of the indomitable record champions — among his post-game laments the now memorable refrain: “The arrows come from everywhere.”

Tedesco wouldn’t even last to October, but his Bayern counterpart Julian Nagelsmann was just getting started. Or so it seemed. Nagelsmann was sacked in March after a Rückrunde run of poor results culminated in a loss to Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen. At the time, Bayern trailed Dortmund but had Der Klassiker next on the schedule, a chance to right things which they emphatically took under new coach Thomas Tuchel.

And ex-Dortmund coach Marco Rose had been installed to the post at Leipzig.

Rose’s first brush with the Bavarian machine — in the midst of a run that saw them blank Champions League stalwarts FC Barcelona, Inter Milan, and Paris Saint-Germain by turn — came in January. It was the return to competitive action for Bayern after a tumultuous winter, filled with injuries, drama, and World Cup heartbreak. It would also be the first of three straight 1-1 draws to start the Rückrunde, early warning signs for Nagelsmann's fracturing job security.

Those warnings went unheeded, but maybe they shouldn't have been. Bayern’s display was the sort that had plagued them all season long. The arrow-raining goals machine had long been sputtering; this was now a team that seemed content to claw their way to one and then surrender control. Bayern carried a 1-0 lead into half-time; Leipzig’s Marcel Halstenberg equalized early in the second.

Konrad Laimer leads a charge of four Leipzig players vs. one defender after winning the ball after a corner.
A taste of Bayern’s own medicine.
Bundesliga YouTube

Leipzig would do much, much better at the second time of asking.

Backed against the wall, needing a result — usually this is the time for the Bavarians to shine. Instead they continued in their usual way. Serge Gnabry’s super strike was a moment of sparkling quality, yet it only seemed to pave the way to complacency. It was Leipzig that demonstrated mentality, peppering Bayern with a few chances before the break. Yet neither that nor Tuchel’s half-time address could lift the team out of their stupor.

Where Leipzig had intent, Bayern’s second-half display was typically desultory. They would be punished soon enough, through the efforts of an incoming Bayern player to boot.

Usually it’s incoming transfers who have to adapt to Bavarian standards of excellence; after this result, there’s the sense that the Bayern locker could learn a thing or two from Konrad Laimer. The midfielder, Julian Nagelsmann’s long-desired “pressing machine”, won the ball himself after a set piece, led a very familiar-looking charge — arrows down all sides — and finished the sequence himself after Christopher Nkunku’s cutback was deflected.

Even that wasn’t enough. A draw already flung the door open to Dortmund, but Bayern had one more of the season’s greatest hits to replay: the double penalty. In the loss that would mark the end of Nagelsmann’s tenure, two Leverkusen penalties after an early Bayern goal sealed the result. A reprise was only fitting. Leipzig had their three goals again, matching their Supercup output. This time, Bayern could only muster the one.

Searing questions about over the direction and future of this Bayern Munich squad. Where is the mentality? The determination? The patterns have now recurred far too many times to suppose they are blips. And they’ve happened, repeatedly, under both coaches.

Dortmund’s 3-0 triumph at Augsburg on Sunday, achieved without potentially Real Madrid-bound Jude Bellingham, may augur a shift in the balance of Bundesliga power. Could it be a two-horse race going forward? These aren’t the BVBers of years past, the ones who would seemingly refuse to take every offering Bayern made. If Bayern want to reverse the trend, to seize the reins once again…well, it would be good to start at some point.

The season isn’t over yet, but the Bayern that began the campaign look well and truly gone. It’s been a storybook season, alright. Only the story was a nightmare.

Want more thoughts on that absolute debacle of a match between Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig? Check out our postgame podcast for our thoughts on where everything went wrong, why Bayern Munich collapsed in this match (and in this season), and who needs to be looking over their shoulder moving forward at the club. You can listen on Spotify or below:

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