JUST when you thought that there might be a changing of the guard in Germany, after a prolonged period of Bayern Munich dominance, the Bavarians trounced title rivals Borussia Dortmund 5-0 to edge ahead of them by a single point with six Bundesliga games to go.
At one stage this season, Bayern were 10 points behind Dortmund and many saw this as signal that Bayern’s run was over and that a period of rebuilding may be about to start in Munich. Not that Dortmund have been in terminal decline, but BVB have lost three games since the turn of the year and two in the last month, whereas Bayern have lost just once since the end of the winter break.
Bayern’s 5-0 victory was as incredibly one-sided as the scoreline suggests with Dortmund’s defence woeful at times. This underlines how important their attack has been this season in compensating for the back line.
The gap is paper-thin, so the run-in is poised to be tense, with Bayern ending the campaign with games against RP Leipzig (third) and Eintracht Frankfurt (fourth) and Dortmund finishing with a tough trip to Gladbach (fifth).
Dortmund must be kicking themselves, however. In addition to the defeats, three consecutive draws in February chipping away at their advantage over Bayern.
Both teams went out of the Champions League at the last 16 hurdle, with Bayern losing at home to Liverpool by 3-1 and Dortmund going out by 4-0 on aggregate to Tottenham. Would Bayern have lost to Klopp’s side two years ago?
Have Dortmund been complacent? Their fans have, apparently, been singing for weeks that they were going to champions, but Bayern are, as always, resilient and focused. Nevertheless, there have been rumours that all is not well behind the scenes at the club. It’s always hard to please the Bayern grandees and Executive Chairman, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge is not a fan of coach Niko Kovac and his rotation policy, which he was told to abandon at Christmas.
There’s plenty of talk that Kovac will not be at the club in 2019-20 – although he could win the domestic double this season – and even Jose Mourinho has been linked with Bayern, a marriage that would not be made in heaven, one suspects. Bayern have not given Kovac any guarantees of employment beyond the summer.
Uli Hoeness, another of the Bayern old guard, told the media that Kovac has been constantly undermined, presumably by Rummenigge. The more sensational segments of the media have also been quick to suggest that there’s a number of separate agendas behind the scenes, with a possible challenge to Rummenigge’s chair.
Furthermore, more evidence that Bayern are not exactly a happy club at the moment emerged this past week, with Robert Lewandowski and Kingsley Coman indulging in a punch-up in training. There have also been rumblings the club is going to make a big bid to sign Gareth Bale from Real Madrid.
Whatever happens, it’s the tightest and most absorbing Bundesliga title battle for a long time – the last six years have seen Bayern triumph by an average of more than 16 points, with 2017-18 ending with a 21-point margin. That tells you something, that Bayern’s recent overwhelming superiority has been eroded, with Dortmund, under the Swiss Lucien Favre coming to the fore once more.
If the team from North-Rhine Westphalia finish as champions, it will be a considerable achievements given the financial gap between the two clubs. Bayern’s revenues (€ 617 million) are almost double the total income of BVB (€ 317 million) and Bayern’s wage bill € 265 million is around € 80 million higher than Dortmund’s € 187 million.
It may be Dortmund’s only chance to win the Bundesliga with their current team, for the summer will surely see Bayern reinforce their playing squad – particularly if they have another coach in place. The neutral money will be on BVB, but as everyone knows only too well, you can never write-off Die Roten.