Bayern Munich's humiliation of Borussia Dortmund makes Bundesliga gap feel wider than it is

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Bayern Munich may only be one point ahead of <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/teams/borussia-dortmund/" data-ylk="slk:Borussia Dortmund">Borussia Dortmund</a> in the Bundesliga now, but it sure felt like the gap was bigger on Saturday. (Getty)
Bayern Munich may only be one point ahead of Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga now, but it sure felt like the gap was bigger on Saturday. (Getty)

Mathematically, all is not lost for Borussia Dortmund.

Sure, Bayern Munich reclaimed first place in the Bundesliga by battering and deep-frying Die Borussen 5-0 at home on Saturday, but six games remain in this strange, careening German season. In spite of their endless issues and obvious need for an extensive renovation to their squad, Bayern has positioned itself for a record-extending seventh straight league title. But Dortmund isn’t exactly out of the two-team race yet, trailing by a mere point in pursuit of its first championship since winning back-to-back in 2012 and 2013.

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The psychology of it all, though, is a different matter.

The narrative had swung back and forth all season. Dortmund started out hot and didn’t lose a league game until Dec. 18. It beat Bayern along the way, overturning two deficits for a cathartic win in a staggeringly good game on Nov. 10. Bayern appeared to be in freefall, winning just six of its first dozen games and slumping to sixth place at one point.

Things got so bad that first-year manager Niko Kovac wasn’t even blamed. The Bayern of yore would have simply fired its manager, brought in somebody the players liked better, and gone back to dominating. But there was an understanding that the club had been too slow to cycle out its veterans and rejuvenate its squad. It wasn’t the coach’s fault. The issues ran deeper. Bayern needed a reboot.

And then it just kind of, well, rebooted on the fly midseason. Since Dec. 1, Bayern is 14-1-1 in league matches, including Saturday’s victory. Dortmund, meanwhile, showed the youth of many of its stars. As Bayern put together an unlikely title challenge, clawing its way up the table, Dortmund floundered, winning just one of its four games in February and then dropping three points to relegation-threatened Augsburg. By early March, Bayern was back in first place.

Dortmund reclaimed the top spot last weekend though, capitalizing on a Bayern stumble by bagging a win with an injury-time goal for the second game running, suggesting that it had finally recovered from its slide. Those were big moments in Dortmund’s season, reassuring an inexperienced team that momentum was with them once again.

It was turning into perhaps the tightest German title race in a decade.

So when these sides were slated to meet head-to-head, tension and anticipation soared. A loss, and the attendant long odds of winning the title, might have cost Kovac his job – if not immediately, then likely at the end of the season. Dortmund, however, was missing several key players, including American forward Christian Pulisic, who is Chelsea-bound this summer.

It was never really a game.

Ten minutes in, Mats Hummels redirected a corner against his former club to put his current employer, Bayern, ahead.

And not much later, Robert Lewandowski, another former Dortmund star poached by the moneyed club from Munich, intercepted a stray pass in Dortmund’s back line. He scooped the ball over goalkeeper Roman Burki and dinked it into the empty net.

In the 40th minute, Javi Martinez added a third when Dortmund very generously let Bayern have three cracks at shooting.

And before halftime, Thomas Muller found Serge Gnabry with a chip to the far post. He headed in gratefully.

By the time they got their fifth in the late going, the Bavarians hardly even celebrated anymore, as Lewandowski shimmied away from his man and tapped in a simple finish.

It was perhaps the fourth Bayern goal that could be ascribed to substandard defending. But then Lucien Favre’s Dortmund, usually a dizzyingly quick attacking team, created no real chances of note of its own. Manuel Neuer had so little to do in Bayern’s goal that he might have been forgiven for confusing the game for some early-round cup affair against a lower-league minnow.

So where does Dortmund go from here, with Bayern squarely in the driver’s seat for the home stretch of the season? Certainly, the reigning champions are only a point ahead. But this lopsided loss may well have broken Dortmund’s spirits.

Dortmund brims with very young players, like the 20-year-old Pulisic, 19-year-old fellow winger Jadon Sancho, 20-year-old striker Jacob Bruun Larsen, and defenders Dan-Axel Zagadou and Achraf Hakimi, 19 and 20 respectively.

It’s hard to imagine such a young team recovering from this colossal humiliation when it’s felt for the entire second half of the season that the Bavarian juggernaut was gaining and creeping up on Dortmund.

After the game, Favre called the defeat “a lesson” that was “hard to stomach.”

It was.

Kovac, for his part, declared that his team had played “a perfect game for 90 minutes.”

It did.

Eighteen points remain on the table. And just one separates these teams.

But on Saturday, the gap between them was enormous.

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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