For over five years, with very few, if any, interruptions, Bayern Munich has dominated German soccer. It has been the Bundesliga’s entrenched king, its undisputed best team, and it has rarely shown any signs of relinquishing that title.
Which is why the first two months of the 2017-18 Bundesliga season brought excited, hopeful chatter that Bayern might be vulnerable. The Bavarians dropped seven total points against Hoffenheim, Wolfsburg and Hertha Berlin. They canned a manager. They looked fairly ordinary in the Champions League. Meanwhile, Borussia Dortmund zoomed to the top of the table, and RB Leipzig looked strong.
But just when doubt started to creep in, Bayern squashed it. Dortmund has been shaky. A contested title race in Germany? Hah. So much for that.
Munich has won five, lost none, scored 12, conceded one since appointing Jupp Heynckes as Carlo Ancelotti’s replacement, and beat third-place Leipzig with ease on Saturday to go three points clear at the top of the league.
It was aided – as always, it seems – by a Leipzig red card for the third time in four games between the two opponents. But there was no denying Bayern’s superiority. And there is no denying Bayern’s superiority. With injuries having eased up, and Ancelotti’s laissez-faire approach no longer poisoning the atmosphere at the club, it is back to its dominant best.
James Rodriguez, Arjen Robben and Robert Lewandowski had their way in the first half. And while Leipzig were mostly ripped apart after the sending off, it was Robben who forced the referee’s hand. He raced in behind, cut his touch and his run across the path of Willi Orban, and went down under contact from the Leipzig defender. The referee went to video review, and dealt Orban his marching orders. It was probably the correct decision.
Minutes later, Robben and James combined for the opening goal:
Leipzig withdrew start striker Timo Werner in the 22nd minute, opting for damage control even at just 1-0. The visitors knew what they were up against. They found little joy against Bayern center backs Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels. Thiago Alcantara and Javi Martinez dictated play from midfield. Martinez unlocked the Leipzig defense with a cutting through-ball to Lewandowski, who finished past Leipzig keeper Peter Gulasci.
The match ended 2-0, with Lewandowski subbed off as a precaution late in the first half. The two could have been four or five. But the margin is unlikely to matter, if Bayern continue to play like it has under Heynckes. And if Leipzip continue to be capable top-four challengers, but nothing more.
And especially if Dortmund continues to concede goals like mad. It lost 4-2 to Hannover on Saturday, seven days after a 2-2 draw at Frankfurt, and 14 days after a 3-2 loss to Leipzig. Its early-season table-topping form was supported by a staunch defensive record that was always unlikely to last. More recently, it has shown its true colors.
The Bundesliga has not been won yet by any means. Bayern still might not be the juggernaut it has been in years past. But it is the best team in Germany, and its first clash with a fellow challenger was hope-dashing evidence for those hoping to see the end of the Bavarian reign.