They did what they always do, and it was rarely in doubt. Schalke resisted as best they could, had their moments and were several steps forward from the meek strugglers who have filled the royal blue shirts for a large part of this season. Bayern Munich, however, were always going to get it done, and not just because this was their 10th successive win against the Gelsenkirchen club. Even if the late goals by Thomas Müller and David Alaba added a slightly unfair sheen to the scoreline for the champions, their total superiority couldn’t have been clearer.
“We were good,” mulled Christian Gross, “but not good enough yet.” The Schalke coach was speaking for his team, but he could really have been speaking for the Bundesliga, minus Bayern. Hansi Flick’s side picking up their expected three points was the second to last game of the weekend, but it felt like the denouement had come a day earlier on the Saturday; the denouement of the title race itself, perhaps.
It was the weekend, as Bild memorably described it in its Monday edition, of Die Meister-Hosenscheisser (the champion pants-shitting). Defeats for RB Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund paved the way for Bayern to move seven points clear at the top. What will hurt the hopefuls – and it is hard to avoid the sense that a post-mortem of sorts is already beginning – is that Flick has been nursing his side through this campaign with a combination of pragmatism, patience and understanding. They have not only offered opportunities to the opposition. Some of them have been taken. Despite Manuel Neuer playing his best in several years, their defence has been leaky. Bayern are not invulnerable.
Accordingly, the exasperation of Julian Nagelsmann after Leipzig’s Saturday afternoon defeat against a struggling Mainz was clear. The coach wasn’t pleased with the referee Christian Dingert or with a deteriorating pitch but most of all, he was befuddled by his players; the switching off from set pieces that allowed Moussa Niakhaté an unlikely brace, his players’ lack of their customary zip and that his changes did little to affect a match that was slipping away.
Having dominated Dortmund during the Englische Woche, Leverkusen were in the same boat, unable to build on the midweek result and looking thoroughly uninspired against bogey team Wolfsburg, who have now won at BayArena three times in a row. Possibly worse than the backwards step after being so impressive four days earlier was the loss of Julian Baumgartlinger, one of Die Werkself’s rare piano carriers, with a serious knee injury.
The squad is already stretched and Bayern, of course, have greater depth to compensate for their own weariness. “We had no strength or freshness at the end,” said Peter Bosz. Dortmund’s weariness, meanwhile, came from a sense of déjà vu as they slipped to seventh following defeat at Borussia Mönchengladbach. “They were the same mistakes we always make,” said Marco Reus, whose mood had already been clear as he flung his boots to the floor from the bench after being substituted. Continue reading