Bayern Munich's Der Klassiker setback might mean more than just a Bundesliga loss

Niko Kovac is on the hot seat, especially after Bayern Munich’s loss in Der Klassiker to <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/teams/borussia-dortmund/" data-ylk="slk:Borussia Dortmund">Borussia Dortmund</a>. (Reuters)
Niko Kovac is on the hot seat, especially after Bayern Munich’s loss in Der Klassiker to Borussia Dortmund. (Reuters)

In soccer, as in anything else, nothing lasts forever.

At some point, Bayern Munich’s dominance of the Bundesliga will end. It can’t go on indefinitely. Even in the context of its own glorious history, Bayern is on its longest run of success yet. It has won the German title six years in a row. During that spell, it reached the Champions League semifinals five times and won it once – on the back of reaching the final twice more in 2010 and 2012. Oh, and it scooped up three DFB-Pokals, aka the domestic cup, meaning it did the double twice and the hallowed treble once in half a dozen years.

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Bayern already holds the German records for the most Bundesliga titles (28), the most DFB-Pokals (18), Supercups (7) and DFL-Ligapokals (6). Its five European titles are tied for third-most of any club with FC Barcelona and Liverpool.

But while Bayern is the richest and biggest club, Germany is hardly devoid of other major teams. Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 enjoy enormous support. Borussia Moenchengladbach, Wolfsburg, Werder Bremen and Bayern Leverkusen have regularly staged title challenges. RB Leipzig is up and coming.

But year after year, it’s Bayern again. To the point where it’s likely hurt the Bundesliga’s appeal in foreign markets because of its complete predictability.

Yet sometimes the cracks appear to show. Last season, Bayern got off to a relatively slow start and Carlo Ancelotti was fired before September was out for … losing two games. There were larger issues, of course, as the veteran Italian seemed to have lost the locker room entirely. So Jupp Heynckes was drummed out of retirement once again and set things right.

The core of the squad is aging. Defender Mats Hummels is about to turn 30. Striker Robert Lewandowski already has. And the wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, on whom the club continues to rely, are 35 and 34, respectively. This season, too, has been unusually shaky, with new manager Niko Kovac, a defensive specialist, suffering 2-0 and 3-0 losses to Hertha Berlin and Gladbach. A pair of ties, as well. All conspiring to drop Bayern to third place going into Saturday’s showdown at Dortmund, the early league leaders.

Kovac, of course, was already under pressure to figure things out in a hurry. But it all got worse Saturday when Dortmund overcame two Bayern leads from Lewandowski, who famously left Die Borussen for the Bavarians four years ago, to eke out a 3-2 home win in a scintillating game to consolidate its first place.

Bayern’s third league loss is more than it had in four of its last six seasons. And the campaign is only 11 games old.

Away at the leaders, Bayern went for its usual press while Lucien Favre’s rampant Dortmund, not starting star striker Paco Alcacer or American attacking midfielder Christian Pulisic, surprisingly, speculated on the counter-attack.

Early on, Marco Reus had a fat chance on just such a breakaway. He was denied by Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, but the Dortmund captain would make amends later.

Bayern took the lead in the 26th minute, when Serge Gnabry deposited an inch-perfect cross to Lewandowski, who scored with a diving header.

Just after halftime, however, Reus was adjudged to have been brought down by Neuer in his box. It was hard to tell if the contact he was plainly looking for was avoidable. At any rate, Reus converted the penalty himself.

Bayern then battered their way through Dortmund’s back line, which was as porous as Bayern’s, culminating in Joshua Kimmich’s little chip to Lewandowski for his second.

Lewandowski was denied his hat-trick when he was called offside. And Reus and Alcacer, the latter on as a substitute, managed to miss seemingly unmissable chance on Bayern’s doorstep.

But Reus made good in the 67th minute with a terrific, one-time finish from a low cross.

And six minutes later, Alcacer was sprung on the counter by the masterful Axel Witsel. The Spaniard waited out Neuer and chipped the ball over him to give Dortmund the win.

In a late assault, Bayern found no answers, even though Lewandowski came close with a second disallowed offside goal on an injury-time back-heel. And its deficit to Dortmund is now a full seven points. If Leipzig manages to beat Leverkusen at home on Sunday, Bayern will drop to fourth place.

Kovac’s job is now very much in danger. As is, of course, Bayern’s effort to win a seventh straight German title.

Because as formidable as Bayern’s advantages over its domestic rivals may be, selling out a 75,000-seat stadium every game and selling merchandise to a global fan base, the ball is still round. This German saying posits, wisely, that the ball can bounce any which way. This season, it has.

And so even the longest of dynasties will have to end sooner or later. Maybe even now.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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