One matchday into the second half of the season Bayern Munich remain eight points clear at the top of the Bundesliga table. However, one team could still make things interesting, argues DW's Joscha Weber.
The passing is quick and true, the finishing precise and deadly. The body language: dominant and self-confident. Anyone who carefully observed the way Borussia Dortmund played in the Borussiapark in Mönchengladbach on Saturday evening could see how well coach Thomas Tuchel's men must have trained during the winter break. In a blink of an eye, every part of the team changes direction in sync with the movement of the ball, no matter which way it moves. Their work rate is impressive and they are not even thrown off balance when they concede a goal. On the contrary: With their 3-1 victory against rivals Borussia Mönchengladbach, Dortmund showed that they are ambitious and have certainly not given up hope of winning the title.
"We definitely won't give up without a fight, it still isn't over yet," BVB striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang said prior to the match, in a battle cry directed towards Munich. The fact that Africa's footballer of the year didn't have a good game didn't matter in the end, as Marco Reus, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gündogan delivered what were at times simply brilliant performances. Led by their ambitious if not success-obsessed coach, Thomas Tuchel, Borussia could still make the race for the league title interesting, despite Bayern's eight-point lead in the standings. BVB have the players, the will, and are in the form they need to be to take advantage of any weakness on the part of the Bavarians.
And they could already be showing the first signs of weakness. In their first game of the year, Bayern delivered a spotty, sometimes lifeless performance in Hamburg. It was only thanks to the always efficient striking duo of Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller that Munich didn't end up dropping points. Now the back four boss, Jerome Boateng, is out indefinitely with a muscular injury. And coach Pep Guardiola always turns prickly when asked about his future plans. His planned departure for the Premier League will overshadow the second half of the season, partly because he either can't or refuses to explain why exactly he has decided to leave Munich without having completed the project he started (winning the Champions League).
Should Juventus, who are always a difficult team to play, eliminate Bayern from Europe's top club competition in the round of 16, it will be seen in Munich as a disaster - something that could also ruin the atmosphere for some time to come. So Guardiola is already under pressure, and now there is also pressure coming from Dortmund. Bayern finally has a serious rival. After a year of crisis, which culminated with the departure of folk hero Jürgen Klopp from the Ruhr region, BVB are back. They also happen to have set something of an unofficial record - having collected the most points of any second-placed team, 18 games into a Bundesliga season.
Dortmund are a team moving in the right direction. They have managed to keep their best players despite astoundingly high transfer offers from England. Their system of play has become more variable under Tuchel than it was under Klopp, and even Guardiola regards Dortmund as one of the best eight teams in European football. So there are lots of arguments against Bayern maintaining their eight-point lead. And after three years of Bayern's boring domination of the Bundesliga, this in and of itself would be good news.