The title may be decided, but that didn't dampen the intensity in the latest edition of "Der Klassiker." And Dortmund pulled off a shockingly lopsided win to hand a full-strength Bayern their second season defeat.
Ahead of the match, many people wondered whether Bayern coach Pep Guardiola would again bench mainstays in favor of youth team players. He did not. The starting 11 that lined up in Munich against Dortmund was very much an A team - one that lost the match 3-0.
Dortmund, by contrast, chose to rest striker Robert Lewandowski. As it turned out they didn’t need him. After absorbing some early pressure, Henrikh Mkhitaryan put the visitors ahead with a lashed shot past Manuel Neuer.
This was not the Bayern backline's best day. Neuer stayed in the dressing rooms at halftime with a calf strain, handing 20-year-old Lukas Raeder - normally a third-stringer - his first ever Bundesliga start. His introduction to the big leagues was harsh. He’d only been on the pitch four minutes when Marco Reus smacked a shot past him to make it 2-0.
And his defenders left him utterly in the lurch on 56 minutes, when Jonas Hofmann snuck clear to score Dortmund’s third off a speculative ball over the top of the Bayern back line. Bayern generated a few chances for a lifeline but ultimately had to swallow their medicine. Rafinha got a red card in the final minutes for scratching Mkhitaryan's face. It was their second straight defeat and the second game in a row in which the 2013-14 champs failed to score.
"We had a problem with our rhythm and with our offensive set-up," Bayern's sporting director Matthias Sammer said after the match. "We never made the right decisions, which played into Dortmund's hands. It's not unproblematic."
The 3-0 win goes a way toward restoring second-placed Dortmund’s pride, which has been severely bruised by Bayern’s runaway, record-setting season. Perhaps more importantly it gives Jürgen Klopp’s men momentum before their German Cup semifinal against Wolfsburg on Tuesday. Bayern play Kaiserslautern in the other semi on Wednesday so it’s a good bet there will be another edition of Der Klassiker in the cup final on May 17.
Wolves on the rise
As if to underscore just how up for grabs fourth place in the Bundesliga is, earlier on Saturday Wolfsburg leapfrogged Mönchengladbach into the qualifying spot for the Champions League. To do so the Wolves needed to come from behind against second-last Nuremberg.
The Club sprinted out to an early lead when Markus Feulner found the net with a quickly turned shot in minute eight. But that was to remain Nuremberg's only shot on goal for a long time, while Wolfsburg needed just three minutes to change the course of the match.
On the 19 minute mark, the excellent Kevin de Bruyne set up Ivica Olic for the equalizer. Then, after 22, the Belgian nabbed the ball in midfield and found Ivan Perisic who lobbed keeper Raphael Schäfer.
Nuremberg never got going offensively, and when Junior Malanda scored in the 70th minute, it was game, set and match for the Wolves. Perisic bagged his brace late to complete the 4-1 scoreline.
Those three points were doubly valuable because Borussia Mönchengladbach were outplayed at home by relegation-threatened Stuttgart. Daniel Didavi got the visitors on the scoreboard 12 minutes in, and Stuttgart held the harmless Foals in check over ninety minutes. Yet a Juan Arango header in injury time salvaged a 1-1 draw for Gladbach, with Stuttgart again conceding late.
"If Stuttgart had made it 2-0, the game would have been over," Gladbach coach Lucien Favre admitted. "But we always believed we could score."
Wolfsburg and Gladbach are now fourth and fifth respectively, although competitors Leverkusen have a game in hand and could overtake them on Sunday.
Mainz mash Bremen
One team that has been flying under the radar recently is Mainz, but no longer. A convincing win over Bremen took them, at least temporarily, to within three points of fourth.
Bremen striker Nils Petersen sent Mainz on their way with a comical own goal after only five minutes. Thomas Tuchel's men summarily ran roughshod over their overmatched visitors.
Christoph Moritz doubled Mainz's advantage on the quarter-hour mark, and just before the half-time whistle, Yunus Malli put the result beyond any doubt. The second half was a mere formality. The 3-0 win gives tiny Mainz an unlikely, outside shot at the Champions League.
"We played a bad football match," Bremen coach Robin Dutt summarized by way of understatement.
Twelfth-placed Bremen , who own the joint-worst goal differential in the Bundesliga, are lucky not to be even closer to the bottom of the table.
Big wins for Hannover and Freiburg
Hannover and Freiburg can both breathe somewhat more easily after racking up potentially crucial wins over fellow relegation candidates.
Lars Stindl put Hannover ahead at home against Hamburg in minute nine, and the hosts should have added one or two more as they dominated early on. After the restart Hakan Calhanoglu fired in a free kick to punish Hannover for their profligacy, but Didier Ya Konan saved their bacon with the late 2-1 game-winner. It was Hannover's first victory since mid-march and took them to 13th in the table.
"It's a bitter result," Hamburg coach Mirko Slomka, who began the season with Hannover, said. "Now they've pulled away from us, and we're down in the cellar."
Freiburg are level on points in 14th after beating cellar-dwellers Braunschweig 2-0. Braunschweig's Damir Vrancic got the hosts going with an unlucky early own goal, and at the start of the second half Julian Schuster fired in a long distance deflected shot.
Stuttgart are currently in 15th, one point better than Hamburg in the playoff spot. Nuremberg and Braunschweig occupy the direct relegation places at the foot of the table.
On Friday evening, Schalke beat Frankfurt 2-0 to solidify their hold on third place.
On Sunday, Leverkusen try to restart their foundering Champions League campaign at home against Hertha Berlin. In the late match, Hoffenheim host Augsburg in a mid-table clash.