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Borussia Dortmund had its chances. It had space on the counter and sights of goal. It had an opportunity to erase a damaging month, and to erase the feeling that the Bundesliga title race is getting away from the rest of Germany.
It squandered those chances, and that opportunity. And the title, which seemed to be up for grabs just a few weeks ago, is careening further and further out of reach. Bayern Munich just wont relinquish it.
The champions went to the Westfalenstadion on Saturday and won the latest edition of Der Klassiker, 3-1. They bossed possession in the first half, rode goals from their attacking stars, and waltzed to a four-point lead atop the league that is growing by the week. Their crisis has officially been put to bed. The title race might just have been too.
The game was not one-sided. But Bayern was clinical – more clinical than its foes, as it has been for five-plus consecutive years. Its control materialized into a 1-0 lead in an instant when the ball fell to the feet of Arjen Robben at the edge of the box in the 15th minute:
Robert Lewandowski doubled, and eventually tripled the lead with two flicks either side of halftime:
Christian Pulisic was Dortmund’s brightest performer on a dark night. In the first half, he danced away from the Bayern defense after a corner and single-handedly led a quick counter. Shinji Kagawa’s shot at the end of it was deflected off the post and wide.
Pulisic was elusive as ever, and in the second half he created another glorious chance for Dortmund. But Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and Andriy Yarmolenko – who also had a close-range first-half shot saved by Sven Ulreich – got in each other’s way and inadvertently conspired to waste the opportunity.
Pulisic eventually helped set up Dortmund’s goal by wriggling out of a double-team in the corner. His meg of Robben was filthy. Marc Bartra’s finish was majestic.
But at that point, the intrigue had been flushed away. The story of the day had been written. Bayern had been at its best when the game was in the balance. Dortmund hadn’t been.
“We didn’t come out ready to play in the first half,” Pulisic said after the match. “Not at all. Bayern, they were doing whatever they want, they were finding the spaces. We just weren’t ready to play.”
Munich was five points behind Dortmund when Jupp Heyneckes replaced Carlo Ancelotti last month. The rest of the league smelled blood as Bayern lost to Hoffenheim and drew Wolfsburg, then drew Hertha Berlin under interim boss Willy Sagnol.
In less than a month, Heyneckes has taken the Bavarians from five points back to six points ahead of Dortmund. Their four points ahead of RB Leipzig, whom they beat last week. The former leaders, meanwhile, have been exposed defensively, and have fallen well off the pace. It would be surprising, therefore, to see Bayern cede its spot atop the table to anybody between now and season’s end.
The five-time champions are not invincible. They are not quite as strong as they have been in the past. They are not in the clear just yet. But opportunities like the one Ancelotti’s Bayern gave the rest of the league only present themselves so often. They must be taken when they do.
In just four weeks, Dortmund and Leipzig have already failed to do just that. And now they face an uphill battle to make the league interesting.
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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.