One of German football’s primary cliches is that of Bayern-Dusel – an undeserved helping of fortune that would help them somehow get it over the line in the last knockings, however well or badly they had played. A sense of inevitability. If you make your own luck in this game, though, Bayern Munich have not made nearly a good enough job of manufacturing any for themselves in recent weeks.
For the champions, licking their wounds after Saturday evening’s stark, humbling home loss at the hands of RB Leipzig, Borussia Dortmund’s Sunday teatime victory at Augsburg was almost irrelevant, even if it did mark the chasers becoming the leaders with one game of the season to go – definitively taking the title’s fate out of Bayern’s hands. The mood, the level of introspection in Munich barely left a window for acknowledging Edin Terzić’s team doing their bit and getting set to take the title on next Saturday’s final round.
This penultimate weekend of the Bundesliga had the feeling of a pivotal moment going back weeks; Bayern facing their most accomplished opponent in the run-in (and an opponent with something to play for) in Leipzig, with Dortmund travelling to a struggling team in Augsburg, just an hour to the west. For it to go quite this well for the latter, and quite as badly for the former, is more of a shock.
BVB had their own psychological hurdles to jump. The sense that they were not used to dealing with the pressure of a genuine title race had grown in recent weeks as they tossed away a two-goal lead to 10 men at Stuttgart and failed to beat another cellar dweller at Bochum, the latter being when they last held pole position. There were nerves to conquer.
Again they had the numerical advantage from the first half, when Felix Uduokhai was red-carded for dragging back Donyell Malen as he went through on goal. Dortmund had dominated a team still aiming to guarantee their Bundesliga safety – the shot count was 12-1 at half-time – but the jitters really started to creep in after Sébastien Haller put them in front with a smart finish from an angle. After a few scares, Haller’s second and a Julian Brandt strike finished it meaning if BVB beat Mainz at home next week, they will be champions. “It’s not magic,” said Haller. “It’s a lot of work.” For a team that was sixth at Christmas it is not far from miraculous, which is exactly how Terzić described Haller’s comeback from cancer.
Yet it is Leipzig’s first win away at Bayern that will continue to resonate, and not just for what remains of this extraordinary season. It meant plenty for Marco Rose’s team too, ensuring their return to the Champions League next season when coupled with Union Berlin’s Saturday loss at Hoffenheim. They had trailed to Serge Gnabry’s wonderfully taken first-half goal but after Konrad Laimer – who will join Bayern in the summer – had thrashed the visitors level with 25 minutes to go, they didn’t even have to reach their best to find a path to victory.
The manner of the equaliser was a case in point. Leipzig broke from a Bayern corner and as Jamal Musiala lost the ball to Laimer, they were briefly four-on-one, such was the lackadaisical nature of Bayern’s organisation. It wasn’t the slickest counter that Rose’s men have authored this season but once they did score, it felt as if there was only one winner. Leipzig had gently knocked on the door and watched as it fell off its hinges.
After they took the lead from Christopher Nkunku’s penalty – the first of two Bayern conceded, taking them to nine penalties faced in the Bundesliga this season, a small window into their frequent defensive indiscipline – Mathys Tel had a half-chance, saved by Janis Blaswich. Yet the best opportunity fell to Nkunku, squandered on the break – again. Bayern were managing the feat of leaving themselves open on the counter while creating little in the way of chances. Dominik Szoboszlai wrapped it up with a second spot-kick.
The talent is there for Bayern as ever, but the lack of leadership is striking. After David Alaba, Robert Lewandowski, Thiago and company (and with Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry watching on, casting a shadow of the strength of will of Bayern past), the brand known for their winning DNA just didn’t have the personality to react here. Again. “The [Joshua] Kimmich, [Leon] Goretzka, [Leroy] Sané and Gnabry generation stands for sporting mediocrity in the national team, and they won’t make Bayern advance,” chided Kicker’s Frank Linkesch in an editorial.
When the club’s supervisory board meet on 30 May there will be a bill to pay, and the only question is who will be emptying their pockets. Oliver Kahn is under the greatest pressure though it cannot be ruled out that he and the sporting director Hasan Salihamidźić will split the burden. Continuity is generally a good thing, and has been one of Bayern’s greatest strengths not just in the last 11 years, but going back to the 1990s, when Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge began to work in tandem. That principle assumes, though, that there’s something worth hanging on to.
Whether that is the case now is something weighing heavily on Munich minds. The increased presence of Hoeness at matches hints at a return to power and his good relationship with Thomas Tuchel suggests the coach will continue, even if the decision to fire Julian Nagelsmann looks increasingly misguided. The rebuild promises to be painful and expensive, with an elite defensive midfielder and centre-forward the minimum requirements.
As Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Philipp Schneider noted, even Heidi Klum had her say, filming a stressed-looking Kahn from a few rows behind in the Allianz Arena and posting on Instagram (she would keep Kahn but get rid of Salihamidźić). This is full-on, inescapable, everybody’s-talking-about-it water cooler chat in Germany. And there are many more conversations to be had before Bayern are pointed back in the right direction.
• Hertha’s relegation was finally confirmed by Keven Schlotterbeck’s stoppage-time headed equaliser for Bochum, which keeps the latter in the playoff spot. The Berliners still matter, as evidenced by a gargantuan crowd of 70,692 gathered at Olympiastadion for the last rites (“tell the mercenaries to piss off”, said one banner in that crowd) but they face a long road back.
• Schalke had an incredible start against Eintracht Frankfurt with Simon Terrode, playing his last home game, heading them in front after 48 seconds but begin the final day second bottom after a 2-2 draw, needing to win at Leipzig to have any chance of escaping. Stuttgart, who owed their 4-1 win at Mainz to an impressive turn by substitute Chris Führich, are out of the bottom three.
• On Friday night Freiburg, arguably, were the heroes of the weekend, with their deserved 2-0 win over Wolfsburg setting up the rest of the programme – not least motivating Leipzig to dig deep and ensure their top-four place. It is either Union or Freiburg who will take the final Champions League place; it will go to Berlin if Union beat Werder Bremen, barring a huge turnaround in goal difference.