There has been somewhat of a David and Goliath story unfolding in Germany over the past seven years, but this one has a bit of a twist. In this version, where Bayern Munich have picked up seven consecutive Bundesliga titles with relative ease, Goliath is the character emerging victorious.
Borussia Dortmund have long been the neutral’s favourite. Ever since Jurgen Klopp led the club to league titles in 2011 and 2012, as well as a Champions League final in 2013, football fans from all over the world have made clear their admiration for the team’s style of play. Perhaps tellingly, however, it was Bayern who won that 2013 final.
While Dortmund, for the most part, receive more outside support in the battle for the Bundesliga title (they are the David in this story), they haven’t been able to use that to their advantage. These shortcomings were summed up in yesterdays 1-0 home defeat to their rivals, where they were outclassed in more ways than one – but why did this happen?
Bayern are simply better at winning
This point may sound a bit simplistic, but it probably best explains why Bayern have been able to retain their trophy for such an extended period of time. Put simply, they have the know-how when it comes to winning big matches. This game was billed as the biggest of the season, but while the majority of us willed Dortmund on for the sake of an extended title race, they never looked like emerging as victors. Bayern were able to control the game by keeping things simple, largely down to the players they have at their disposal. Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski are all serial winners and they showed that yesterday.
The player that impressed me the most with his attitude, however, was Joshua Kimmich. His reaction at the full time whistle summed it up; his roars of celebration were audible above everyone else’s despite his slight frame. He already has that winning mentality needed if you want to succeed at a club like Bayern, and the Dortmund players yesterday didn’t look like they had the will to push for all three points (or even one). It was fitting that Kimmich got the winning goal.
Dortmund did not penetrate Bayern frequently enough
On the footballing side of things, Dortmund didn’t offer enough either. They did start brightly, having an Erling Haaland effort cleared off the line in the opening phases of the game. After that, however, they rarely threatened. Far too much of their play was in front of the Bayern back four; even when there did appear to be opportunities for defence-splitting passes, Dortmund seemed content to turn back and start again. Such a possession-retaining approach can be commendable, but there has to be an end product. Dortmund didn’t provide that.
Dortmund’s full backs, who have been two of their star players over the past few weeks and over the season, struggled as well. They were never going to get as much space against Bayern as they do against weaker sides, but they failed to adapt their game. There were plenty of opportunities to whip crosses into Haaland to at least put the Bayern defence under a bit of pressure, but again they were happy to go backwards. A more aggressive form of attacking was required.
There is a gulf in quality that Dortmund cannot overcome
There is obviously a big gap between Dortmund and Bayern in terms of sheer footballing ability, hence the David and Goliath comparison. However, whereas David was able to spring surprises with a number of unsuspected tricks, Dortmund have succumbed to the power of Germany’s Goliath. It is very difficult to imagine, for instance, Manuel Neuer making the same error that counterpart Roman Burki did to hand Bayern the only goal of the game.
Lewandowski cracked the post from distance, but Haaland’s best chances came in the opening seconds and on the occasion he was denied from close range by Jerome Boateng (albeit by the defender’s arm, which should have been a stone-wall penalty). Alphonso Davies was one of the stand out performers at full back for Bayern, while Dortmund’s wide defenders struggled to make much of an impact. It’s these big players that are required to win games of this magnitude, and unfortunately Dortmund don’t have enough of them.
What does the future hold?
Dortmund’s squad is, of course, still young. They still have a lot to learn, and given time they could mould themselves into a very strong side. The chances of that happening, however, are slim. Dortmund are a selling club and are unlikely to be given the chance to keep these players around for a prolonged period of time. Jadon Sancho looks likely to leave at some point in the next year, and it’s probable that Haaland will move on to further his career as well.
If Dortmund really want to challenge for the Bundesliga title, they need to stop relying entirely on a young squad that will inevitably be broken up after a few years. This approach makes them enjoyable to watch, but prevents them becoming serial winners. Bayern, on the other hand, possess a combination of hungry young players and experienced veterans who can get them over the line in tough games. It is a template that Dortmund should look at copying if they want David to emerge victorious once again.