High hopes turned to horror show for Borussia Dortmund in Der Klassiker on Saturday evening as they were blown away by a hugely impressive Bayern Munich display.
Dreams of a first Bundesliga title since 2012 may not have been entirely shattered but having begun a highly anticipated clash with a two point lead, the Black and Yellows no longer have the fate of the Meisterschale in their own hands.
Bayern now lead by a point with six games to play, but on the night, the gap between the two sides appeared much greater.
The home team, looking for a seventh Bundesliga title in a row, were simply unplayable in the first 45 minutes.
The four nil score line actually flattered Dortmund, who just couldn’t cope with the quality and intensity of Niko Kovac’s men
Goals from Mats Hummels, Robert Lewandowski, Javi Martinez and Serge Gnabry were no more than Bayern’s play deserved and rendered the second half largely an irrelevance, bar Lewandowski’s second on 88 – as both sides settled for an opportunity to conserve energy for the battles ahead.
Having been nine points behind their visitors at the start of December, Die Roten’s run of 14 wins and two draws since has put them in the driving seat.
It was hard not to feel some sympathy for the shell-shocked Dortmund side. Having had a shaky February, they had won their last three games – each with dramatic late goals – and must have felt confident as they took the field.
The more so given the surprise draw their hosts suffered last week at Freiburg – a result that had tilted the race suddenly back in their favour.
Manager Lucien Favre had insisted before the game that the clash wasn’t a title decider – but it was a clear that Bayern believed it was a game they simply couldn’t afford to lose.
The intensity of their play from the first whistle was that of men on a mission.
Perhaps things might have been different had Mahmoud Dahoud not hit the Bayern post on six minutes when it looked easier to score.
That chance turned out to be Dortmund’s best opening of the game, and the miss was punished emphatically as Mats Hummels headed home unchallenged from a corner three minutes later.
And before the BVB could gain any level of composure, Lewandowski, who’d been intent on isolating the clearly nervy Dan Axel-Zagadou and exploiting his inexperience from the off, pounced on the 19-year-old centre-back’s nervous sideways pass on 17 minutes to end the game as a contest.
From there it was a procession. Only keeper Roman Burki appeared capable of offering any resistance, keeping the Bavarians at bay with a string of fine saves, before Martinez and Gnabry heaped on the first half misery.
With Bayern still to face some potentially tricky fixtures against Champions League hopefuls RB Leipzig and Eintracht Frankfurt, Favre’s charges still have realistic title hopes.
But how will last Saturday’s drubbing affect his players?
Despite Bayern’s inconsistency in the early part of the season and the sense that they’re a team in need of an overhaul, Dortmund have had to work exceptionally hard to stake a claim for their Bundelisga crown.
Indeed, Favre’s men have had to stay ahead of the schedule set by BVB’s last two title winning sides – under Jurgen Klopp in 2011 and 2012 – to make a proper race of things.
The Black and Yellows’ total of 63 points from 27 games going into the weekend was one more than the 62 Klopp’s side had garnered in both 2011 and 2012 at the same stage.
Moreover, with 66 goals this term, Reus and co have comfortably outscored Klopp’s.
And yet despite their fine form this term, and having led the league for so long, they now trail Bayern with the end in sight.
Do they have the resolve, the mental toughness not only to pick themselves up after the Allianz Arena demolition but to pounce should Bayern slip again?
In a season where they’ve probably outperformed what anyone could have reasonably expected after the shambles of 2017/18, can Favre coax any more from them? Can he reasonably be expected to?
But even if he can, Bayern, on the weekend’s evidence, look dead set on denying them any such opportunity.