Borussia Dortmund's second straight Bundesliga title was one of the most dominant performances by a German team in history. Can they finally be called a force to be reckoned with?
The only thing missing was the trophy, but that only gets awarded on the last day of the season. When you lock up the title with two games to go, like Borussia Dortmund did on Saturday, you've got to wait to hoist the hardware.
That didn't matter to any of the Dortmund players or the 80,000 fans packed into Dortmund's Signal Iduna Park after the team waltzed to a 2-0 victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach Saturday to successfully defend their Bundesliga title from last season.
Dortmund's eighth German championship caps a particularly dominant season by coach Jürgen Klopp's squad, moving them past archrivals Schalke into third on the list of total number of championships won by a German team.
The win against Gladbach marked the team's 26th straight undefeated match. Should they win their next two matches - likely outcomes against last-place Kaiserslautern and mid-table Freiburg - they will set the German record for most points in a season with 81.
Delaying the inevitable
Records and undefeated streaks aside, what will set this championship apart for Borussia Dortmund is that they won with targets on their backs all season long. Having the entire league gunning for them hardly seemed to matter.
"This match reflected the entire season," said Klopp after the match. "I think there has seldom been a more deserving champion than Borussia Dortmund this season."
Dortmund's title could have come a few hours earlier had Bayern Munich failed to win their match against Werder Bremen on Saturday. A late goal by Franck Ribery to put Bayern ahead prevented that, but another team's performance has not affected Dortmund all season long. It was fitting that their fate was in their own hands against Mönchengladbach.
"The team played great today," said Dortmund's chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke. "I'm glad Bayern beat Bremen, otherwise we couldn't have celebrated like this today. It was a perfect Saturday. To deliver such a concentrated performance shows the quality of this side."
With the exception of delaying Dortmund's inevitable championship by a few hours, perennial league favorites Bayern were just another team that had no solution for the Dortmund juggernaut.
Tipping the hat
Last week, Bayern president Uli Hoeness attempted to downplay Dortmund's run to the title, saying in an interview on Sky Sports Germany that Dortmund had players who, at the moment, were hungrier, but "had no world-class players."
"Dortmund have had a great season but I will take my hat off to them if they have a great season in the Bundesliga and in international competition," he continued. "Two years ago, they were knocked out of the Europe League in humiliating fashion, and this year, they were in an easy Champions League group and they did not even finish third, they were fourth."
Correct observations from Hoeness, whose team is eyeing a spot in the Champions League final, but ones that may have only come from his frustration that for two years in a row, Bayern have been upstaged by the upstarts from Dortmund.
A good portion of the team of youngsters that surprised the Bundesliga last year came back to surprise the league again with their determination and resilience. Mats Hummels, Marcel Schmelzer, Sven Bender and Shinji Kagawa - who scored Dortmund's second goal against Gladbach - all returned from last year. Polish star Robert Lewandowski, who had a strong first year for the team last year off the bench, became a starter this season and is third on the Bundesliga goal scorers list with 20.
Some players were missing from the 2010/11 squad, such as Nuri Sahin, who transferred to Real Madrid, or Mario Götze, who spent much of the second half of this season on the sidelines with an injury, but Dortmund's ability to thrive without them showed that maybe they don't need the world-class stars that Hoeness and Bayern Munich seem to require.
And of course, there was the team's energetic coach, who has been at the helm since 2008. Klopp's lively presence on the sideline reflects his team's high-tempo pace on the field. Dortmund seem to play with their foot on the gas at all times, to the delight of the grungy Klopp, whose perpetual three-day-stubble and hooded sweatshirt wardrobe have become as much of a trademark as the fire he lights under his team to win.
Dortmund's immediate goal will be to call up one more top performance against Bayern in the German Cup. A win would cement this season in the history books at Dortmund, as the team has never won a cup-league double.
Beyond that though, Klopp and his band of seat-of-the-pants non-superstars will be keen to silence Hoeness or any other critic with a strong showing in next year's Champions League. Watzke thinks that will not be a problem.
"Our young side has more experience and will do better in the Champions League," he said. "I am certain of that."
And in the Champions League, teams that win never have to wait to hoist the trophy.
Author: Matt Zuvela
Editor: Richard Connor