Sublime Klassiker suggests there's finally life in the Bundesliga again | Andy Brassell

Borussia Dortmund’s victory despite an impressive Bayern Munich performance shows how far they have come and how competitive the German league is this season

The 95 minutes-plus of Der Klassiker – and every extra second of the 47 over the 95, which was felt keenly by Borussia Dortmund’s coach Lucien Favre, pushed up tensely on to the edge of his technical area, waving his arms maniacally – were part of such a dizzying swirl of fluctuating momentums and emotions that it’s hard to pick a moment to distil it.

If we were going to try, though, how about 13 seconds before Paco Alcácer’s winner hit the net as Dortmund, typically for a Favre side, tore Bayern apart at the seams on the counterattack? This was the moment when Jadon Sancho – whose second-half display of incandescent talent and industry eclipsed a flat first period and fully justified his hype – dispossessed Franck Ribéry, so often the focal point of bustling energy in this fixture and rolling back the years to his irrepressible best in Bayern’s lusty first-half display.

On the edge of Dortmund’s penalty area Sancho blocked Ribéry, nicking the ball through his legs, an artful bit of street football the latter surely appreciated when the dust settled on this extraordinary battle. Running the ball out, Sancho played it to his “idol” (his words) Marco Reus, and the captain back-heeled to Axel Witsel, waiting to collect. The Belgian’s early ball found the onrushing Alcácer, on the edge of being offside after sprinting from halfway and away from Javi Martínez, before waiting for the onrushing Manuel Neuer to commit before dinking the ball over him and in.

Sancho’s pickpocketing of Ribéry was heavy with symbolism. The ball, the match, and maybe even the season passed from one No 7 to the other, with Alcácer’s winning goal moving BVB seven points clear of Bayern at the Bundesliga’s summit – the first time they have held such an advantage over the Munich club since the climax of the 2011-12 season, when they last denied Bayern the title. The temptation to draw conclusions is strong, though the first reaction was to bask in the glow of a match that has had few if any equals in the European season so far. It was, as Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Carsten Scheele wrote, a match “of the kind where there’s sadness at the end because it’s over.” Marwin Hitz, making his Bundesliga debut in goal for Dortmund after an injury to Roman Bürki, had a whirlwind of a day but it felt like he put his finger on it when he said: “In football terms, you can’t experience much more than this.”

At the end of a first half in which it felt as if BVB were paying the price for the Bayern bear being poked once too often this season, Hitz might have felt as if that whirlwind was swirling in just one half of Westfalen. This was the version of Niko Kovac’s side that neutrals feared has been waiting to come out. Unrelenting and intense, they made the unbeaten hosts looked hurried and rattled, and they fully deserved the lead given to them by Robert Lewandowski. By the end of the match, the Poland centre-forward had taken his tally against his former club to 14.

Yet this Dortmund, relatively meek as they may have been before half-time, were not dissuaded. Favre and defender Manuel Akanji both spoke openly after the game of the team talk; that this was as good as Bayern had been this season, but they couldn’t possibly keep up the intensity after the break. Favre has often spoken about the need for improvement in the face of good results this season, and that their excellent numbers haven’t always told the full story.

Many of BVB’s performances have been uneven and this, on the biggest domestic stage, was no different. With the ineffective Julian Weigl replaced in midfield by Mo Dahoud, they were reinvigorated. “It took a lot of guts,” said Akanji of a second half where Dortmund got level, fell behind again, missed gilt-edged chances but never let their momentum or their focus waver. “In the end,” wrote Scheele, “BVB simply had more power, more ideas, more wit.”

Reus was at the heart of that, finally surfing the crest of a long-awaited wave at 29 and equalising twice in the second half with a penalty and then a crisp first-time finish from Lukasz Piszczek’s cross, as the veteran right-back belied his years with an energetic display. Witsel, even before delivering the decisive pass for Alcácer, showed what his strength has brought to Dortmund, running the midfield after the interval. The sense of sacrifice to really go toe-to-toe with the champions was there too. Mario Götze, to whom making a decisive contribution against Bayern would have meant so much, did plenty of thankless work off the ball before giving way for Alcácer to take centre-stage.

Bayern, whose performance would have been good enough to win this fixture in most recent years, were taken aback by just how far Dortmund have come. “They are leaders,” said Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, “and we must accept that and respect them.” Joshua Kimmich warned how his team “have to be careful we don’t lose touch at the top completely.”

Uli Hoeness, having spent weeks raging at all around, struck a rare conciliatory tone. “I’m less angry, sad or depressed today than a few weeks ago when we lost to Gladbach at home,” he said before looking to the second half of the season when Kingsley Coman and Corentin Tolisso return from injury, and Canadian youngster Alphonso Davies – a candidate to eventually succeed Ribéry – arrives from Vancouver Whitecaps.

For a moment, it felt as if Hoeness was writing the season off and projecting forward to next summer’s promised transfer market splash. “Next year,” he continued, “when the second step of the upheaval comes, the face of the team will change quite a lot.” Dortmund, the message appeared, must use the window they have.

“The Bundesliga is really fun again and now people should be happy that it’s exciting,” concluded Hoeness. That we have a title race that should stretch beyond Christmas was the evening’s most intoxicating thought of all.

Talking points

• The chasing pack are led by Borussia Mönchengladbach, continuing their eye-catching renewal under Dieter Hecking and only four points adrift of the leaders after a 3-1 win at Werder Bremen. Alassane Pléa did the damage, with the Frenchman continuing his seamless adaptation to German football by hitting a sublime hat-trick.

• RB Leipzig and Eintracht Frankfurt are in third and fourth after a 3-0 win apiece, against Leverkusen and Schalke respectively. That Frankfurt are playing such attacking football post-Kovac is not going unnoticed. “The coach [Adi Hütter] gives us the freedom to truly express our quality,” said striker Luka Jovic, who scored twice.

• At the other end of the table, the bottom three – Stuttgart, Fortuna Düsseldorf and Hannover - all won, with just three points now separating the bottom six, led by struggling Leverkusen and Schalke.

Eintracht Frankfurt 3-0 Schalke, Leipzig 3-0 Leverkusen, Dortmund 3-2 Bayern, Fortuna Dusseldorf 4-1 Hertha Berlin, Freiburg 1-3 Mainz, Hoffenheim 2-1 Augsburg, Nürnberg 0-2 Stuttgart, Werder Bremen 1-3 Borussia Mönchengladbach, Hannover 2-1 Wolfsburg

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Borussia Dortmund 11 21 27
2 Borussia M'gladbach 11 13 23
3 RB Leipzig 11 13 22
4 Eintracht Frankfurt 11 13 20
5 Bayern Munich 11 6 20
6 Hoffenheim 11 9 19
7 Werder Bremen 11 0 17
8 Hertha Berlin 11 -1 16
9 Mainz 11 -2 15
10 Augsburg 11 1 13
11 Freiburg 11 -4 13
12 Wolfsburg 11 -2 12
13 Bayer Leverkusen 11 -8 11
14 Schalke 04 11 -7 10
15 Nurnberg 11 -13 10
16 Hannover 96 11 -8 9
17 Fortuna Dusseldorf 11 -15 8
18 Stuttgart 11 -16 8


Andy Brassell

The GuardianTramp

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