They played as a subject team for the occasion. Simple touches bouncing a pinball into the crowd, and passing five yards in a row became impossible things. On the bench, the coach watched in horror, sometimes with his hands in the air, driven half mad by his team’s incompetence. Or is it the other way around? He later admitted that anxiety had spread from him to the players, like an evil virus.
We’ve seen it all before, for as long as most people can remember. Borussia Dortmund came in, faltering and losing in Munich for the ninth consecutive time in the league, and are fortunate that their collapse didn’t translate into something approaching double digits. However, the lack of competition at the Allianz Arena presented a strange development. It was Bayern, not the guests, who looked so poor in the first minutes, and it was Thomas Tuchel, not Edin Terzic, who edged the touchline.
“I was very nervous,” said the 49-year-old after the final whistle. “Maybe my team felt it because we started very nervous, made many technical mistakes. We looked very sloppy.” Was it the sudden change of management last week, a move that seemed to slash the dressing room, and all the fanfare that went with it? Before the match, Sky Germany analyst and former Bayern legend Lothar Matthaus accused CEO Oliver Kahn of behaving in a layerless manner and not telling the truth about the timing of Julian Nagelsmann’s sacking, causing a furious row live on TV.
Perhaps it was just the uncertainty that comes with a team trying to do things differently in a few days and not knowing if it will all turn out in the most relevant encounter on the domestic calendar.
Dortmund, by contrast, played a 10-game unbeaten run in the league and dominated the game, with Bayern unable to apply any meaningful pressure. The problem was that the amazing spell only lasted 13 minutes. Once Gregor Coppell had catastrophically missed a breakthrough – Leroy Sane could have had the finishing touch but let the ball flow into the empty net so as not to disturb the absurdity of the great moment – Bayern regained their composure and Dortmund lost their cool.
Two close-range goals from Thomas Müller, whose striker’s instincts were compared to a ‘truffle pig’ by Tuchel, put the match away to Borussia after just 23 minutes. Bayern could have gone on to completely destroy their hapless opponents, but they were content to play cat and mouse with them, allowing them to live long enough to add two meaningless goals late in a 4-2 defeat. “We could have easily scored three or four more goals,” said Joshua Kimmich, without exaggeration.
Nerves aside, it was later revealed that Dortmund’s early dominance was partly by design, too. While Tuchel’s four-at-the-back system signaled a return to pre-Nagelsmann basics – “We want players to play in the positions they feel most comfortable in,” said Tuchel – the tactical setup was more akin to Carlo Ancelotti’s “let’s do more with less approach”.
Bayern did not press as high and instead settled into a 4-1-4-1 midfield, waiting for BVB to fall into the trap. Time and time again, they exposed it in the second half. Only a few poor final balls and errant offsides came between them and an even more disappointing defeat for Dortmund.
Leon Goretzka has been reluctant to say much about the new coach’s instructions – “It wouldn’t be smart to reveal that,” said the midfielder – but Tuchel kept things simple by splitting his team in half. He told them they should play with five forwards and five defenders, with the two sections protecting each other.
It took Bayern some time to get their act together but the ease of their victory was a result of Tuchel’s concept against Dortmund’s fragility. Everyone knew what they were doing and they did it collectively because it was easy for everyone to understand, even for a team that had only met its new coach 48 hours earlier.
This is just the beginning. Mueller, Goretzka and Kimmich were all highly critical of their performance, bemoaning unforced errors and lack of concentration in the final 20 minutes after a series of substitutions. Tuchel agreed with that assessment but was in a tolerant mood, aside from the odd outburst on the bench. “There are a lot of things that can be improved but this result will give us a boost,” he said.
It will take longer for the full picture to emerge because Dortmund did not provide a meaningful challenge; Freiburg, one of the most difficult teams in the league, may be more suitable in the cup next Tuesday and Saturday in the league. “I don’t feel like my team is at 1,000 percent yet,” admitted Tuchel. “And I still don’t know my way around (Allianz Arena) yet.” He was generous to his predecessor, noting the “work and passion” of Nagelsmann and his staff and vowing that he wanted to “finish this thing for Julian” as well.
And what about Dortmund? BVB sporting director Sebastian Kehl did a stern job of projecting confidence without ignoring the scale of the defeat. “The discipline and discipline were missing today,” he said, “you can’t perform like that in Munich.”
“But the championship has not yet been decided. We are Borussia, we will rise again. This has not happened.” There really is everything to play for. But I didn’t feel like it Saturday night. If this was a glimpse into Bayern’s future under Tuchel, it was terrifying for the competition.
(Top photo: Alexander Hasenstein/Getty Images)
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