Borussia Dortmund have beaten Bayern Munich 1-0 in a game that could well decide the German Bundesliga. Dortmund now lead by six points with only four rounds of fixtures remaining - and they're unbeaten in 24.
Borussia Dortmund delighted a sellout home crowd of over 80,000 on Wednesday evening, beating Bayern Munich 1-0 in a hard-fought game with much more drama than the modest score-line might suggest.
The win puts Dortmund six points clear at the top of the league table and in clear control with so little time remaining in the season. Bayern Munich now need Dortmund to lose at least two of their remaining four fixtures to have even a chance of league glory. Dortmund are on a 24-game unbeaten run, equaling the all-time Bundesliga record. It was a night for records, with Dortmund securing a fourth successive league win against Bayern for the first time ever.
Coach Jürgen Klopp said after the win that nothing was yet decided, and when asked by Sky Germany what he expected in the fierce local Revierderby with Schalke at the weekend, he confided that he feared "a very intensive game."
No strangers to intensity
Wednesday's encounter would fit that description too, with Dortmund's players outrunning their opponents and enforcing the regimented strategy that has served them so well against the Bavarians in the past two seasons. Dortmund harried Bayern's stars in possession, often sending two defenders to deal with danger men Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery in the wide areas.
Dortmund enjoyed the pick of the early chances against the Bavarian visitors, with Jakub "Kuba" Blaszczykowski, Kevin Grosskreutz and Robert Lewandowski all firing on Manuel Neuer's goal in the opening five minutes. The German international keeper delivered a brilliant double-save to deny the latter two.
As the game threatened to lose its spark midway through the first period, Bayern's midfielder Toni Kroos blasted a left-footed shot millimeters wide of Roman Weidenfeller's goal. The chance heralded a strong period of play for Bayern approaching the break, with Franck Ribery scuffing what might have been a dangerous shot a few minutes later.
Still, the best chances of the opening half fell to the hosts, with Robert Lewandowski heading against the post not long before the break.
A turning tide?
The Bavarians looked markedly stronger in the second half, eking out several half-chances including another long-range effort for Toni Kroos, who uncharacteristically miscued with his favored right foot.
Kroos was among Bayern's better performers - along with a busy Manuel Neuer and the fast-maturing Austrian teenager David Alaba at left back - and he picked out Ribery with a delectable long ball just after the hour-mark, only for the French international to fail to get a meaningful shot away.
Having seemingly gained control against a tiring home team, Bayern conceded the opening goal from a short corner on 77 minutes. Lewandowski was credited with the goal, after adding a cheeky flick to an edge-of-the-box volley from Kevin Grosskreutz. Neuer had already dived to try to reach the initial shot, and was helpless as Lewandowski redirected it. The German international did show the presence of mind, however, to appeal for offside even during his dive. His protests were not heeded, and the replay revealed that Lewandowski was onside, thanks to a poorly positioned Arjen Robben.
Subotic was quick to 'congratulate' Robben - but he nearly faced disaster himself a few minutes later
It wasn't long before Robben missed a gilt-edged chance at redemption. He won a penalty on 84 minutes, after being brought down by Weidenfeller in the box. The Dutch international picked himself up but then scuffed a weak left-footed shot towards the bottom-right corner. Weidenfeller guessed right, and was not in the least troubled by a poorly-placed effort.
Bayern pushed for the equalizer in the frenetic closing minutes, but their closest effort came as Dortmund's Neven Subotic nearly scored what would have been an infamous own goal. Trying to clear a cross, his header floated backwards, only to be stopped by the crossbar above Weidenfeller's helpless head. The ball bounced back off the bar straight onto Arjen Robben's left foot, but he capped a night to forget by scooping it over from close range.
Goal scorer Lewandowski rattled the aluminium at the other end seconds later, lobbing Manuel Neuer on the counter-attack only for his shot to tickle the crossbar and stay out. Shortly thereafter, the extremely impressive referee Knut Kircher blew the final whistle on what might well prove the decisive game of the Bundesliga season.
Four forgotten fixtures
Only the most committed club fans had eyes on Wednesday's other Bundesliga action. Third-placed Schalke traveled to Nuremberg and hardly displayed the kind of performance to strike fear into Klopp and co. The Royal Blues capitulated in the first half - conceding three unanswered goals before the break. Hanno Ballitsch opened the scoring for Nuremberg, Timmy Simons added another from the penalty spot and impressive German youngster Daniel Didavi - who set up the opener - headed home a third on the stroke of half time. The second half was a much more balanced affair and the game ended 4-1 to Nuremberg.
Europa League hopefuls Hanover beat visitors Wolfsburg 2-0 thanks to goals from Mame Biriam Diouf and Didier Ya Konan.
Hoffenheim, whose performance has improved no end since the acquisition of coach Markus Babbel from Hertha Berlin, smashed four goals past relegation-candidates Hamburg - who offered no reply. Hoffenheim sneak up to ninth in the league with that win, they might yet compete for European qualification.
Bayer Leverkusen's new coaching duo of Sami Hyypia and Sascha Lewandowski were able to celebrate their first win at the second attempt. But let's not get overexcited, Leverkusen's 3-1 triumph was at home against bottom-of-the-table Kaiserslautern.
Lautern's last Bundesliga win against Freiburg on October 22 is now nearly as distant a memory as Dortmund's last Bundesliga loss in Hanover on September 18. Klopp's side have won 19 and drawn five in the Bundesliga since that game, Bayern Munich now need them to lose at least two of their next four matches.
There's little solace to be found among the statistics, but the Bavarians can also focus on a Champions League semifinal against Real Madrid and a German Cup final - against Dortmund.
Author: Mark Hallam
Editor: Charlotte Chelsom-Pill