The Bundesliga title race is usually dead and buried by this stage of the season. Bayern Munich usually have the Meisterschaft wrapped up already, which has been the case for the last seven seasons in Germany.
Only Borussia Dortmund can really threaten Bayern atop of the league table, and they needed to win again at Fortuna Düsseldorf. Seven points off the top, a defeat would all but end the title race. Lucien Favre’s men had to win once again to have any hope of staging a late season comeback for the Meisterschaft shield.
Dortmund endured a frustrating start to the game on Saturday, breaking well but not taking their chances. The fingers were pointed towards Achraf Hakimi and Julian Brandt going into the break, with both missing big opportunities to put die Schwarzgelben ahead at the Merkur Spiel-Arena.
As the game went on, there was no real improvement from the visitors. Their chances didn’t grow in quality or quantity, they didn’t threaten at the other end and didn’t really lay a finger on Düsseldorf. It was the hosts, in fact, who had the better opportunities to score in the second half, and were unlucky not to snatch the win for themselves.
Finally, when all hope seemed lost, Erling Haaland did what he does best. Of all people, it was centre-back Manuel Akanji who crossed a tantalising ball into the box, and Haaland glanced his header into the top corner past a hapless Florian Kastenmeier. With 95 minutes gone and stoppage time reaching its drab conclusion, Dortmund had won it.
If you saw the result at a glance without watching the action in Düsseldorf, you’d think that this was just another tough yet hard-fought win for Dortmund, one where they were the better team all afternoon and deserved the win.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Dire, depleted, demotivated. These are all more apt descriptions of Borussia Dortmund, who were simply not up to scratch - again. It was the same story as their 1-0 win over Hertha Berlin last week - a poor display which didn’t warrant three points, but nevertheless saw Dortmund earn a victory. These last two - three, if you count the thrashing of Paderborn based on the first half alone - performances have been woeful.
There was no hunger or desire, yet Dortmund somehow still won.
10 wins in their last 11 league games is a remarkable record, but there are no surprises as to who that defeat was to. BVB had one game they had to turn up in when they faced Bayern in Der Klassiker, and failed at the Signal Iduna Park.
Saturday’s win in Düsseldorf echoed the same out-of-tune notes. Dortmund weren’t exciting or enthralling, and scraped past the team battling relegation and with just one win in their last eight games.
The title race will keep going, and Bayern will likely have to wait until next Tuesday’s clash with Werder Bremen to seal the title. But it’s remarkable that the race isn’t yet mathematically settled, given the last three performances from Dortmund.
Sure, they demolished Paderborn 6-1, but before they broke the deadlock, they were awful. That was the case against Hertha and Fortuna Düsseldorf, except they were poor throughout the 90 minutes. There’s been a shift in mentality and confidence since Bayern made the gap seven points wide- Dortmund haven’t been the same since.
The title race lives on, but Dortmund’s hopes and dreams have been shattered for weeks. There is more rebuilding and work to be done, but for now, all they can do is finish what has been a conflicting season. They have performed well but also failed to live up to expectations, failing to cement their title charge.
Borussia Dortmund may have won the match, but it’s too little too late.