Dortmund 90 minutes from the end of a decade of Bayern dominance | Bundesliga
Jhe title parade is due to begin at 12.09am sharp on Sunday afternoon, shortly after victorious Borussia Dortmund signed the city’s famous golden book. The team bus will then circle 1.5 times around Borsigplatz, the large roundabout in the north of Dortmund, before driving the four kilometers through the city center, where 200,000 to 500,000 fans are expected in the streets to celebrate.
All week, as Dortmund players and staff have roamed the city going about their business, they will have noticed the erection of barriers and traffic signs. They felt their phone go white with ticket requests. They may even have heard the mayor of Dortmund say: “We assume that the team will not let Saturday pass.” And yet they will also know that it all still depends on one thing: the 90 minutes of football that could break the drought, or rather break it.
The deed is almost done. A home win against ninth-placed Mainz on Saturday afternoon would end Bayern Munich’s decade of dominance. A win against Mainz would bring the Bundesliga shield back to North Rhine-Westphalia for the first time since 2012, when Jürgen Klopp was young and Robert Lewandowski was up front and every kid with a copy of Fifa wanted to play with Borussia Dortmund.
Bayern, two points behind but with a vastly superior goal difference, must go to Cologne, win and hope. Nothing but a win will be enough for Bayern; in which case nothing but a win will be enough for Dortmund. And in Bavaria they have fond memories of the great breakout of 2000, when they started the final day three points behind but slipped past Bayer Leverkusen’s defeat at Unterhaching.
And in a sense, it would be Bayern’s best result if, even in this most trying season, they found a way to win. Likewise, it would be Dortmund’s most of results if, presented with the Championship on a platter, they found a way to push it back again. But there were plenty of chances for Dortmund to choke during the break-in. Instead, they steadily undermined the nine-point lead Bayern had over them at the start of the year, with a poise and maturity that hasn’t always been their bent.
That we have even reached this point is a surprise. Even as Bayern worked their way through the spring, dropping points, sacking Julian Nagelsmann, there seemed to be a widespread assumption that old muscle memory would eventually see them through, that their rivals would ultimately lose too many points. “Dortmund is almost too stupid to become German champions,” Bavarian President Markus Söder said in April.
Instead, it was Bayern, the title still within their grasp, who crumbled under pressure at home to Leipzig last weekend. Their record under their new manager, Thomas Tuchel, is five wins, two draws and four losses, a streak that could see three trophies disappear in the space of two months. “We messed up enough, it’s our fault,” Tuchel said this week. And while Tuchel is safe for now, managing director Oliver Kahn and sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic hover nervously above the hatch.
Paradoxically, it hasn’t been a vintage Dortmund season either. They started badly, and will finish with fewer points than in 2016 and 2019, when they finished second. But while they owe their opportunity more to Bayern’s weakness, it was seized with momentum. The attacking trio made up of Sébastien Haller, Karim Adeyemi and Donyell Malen has proved irresistible in recent weeks. Gio Reyna contributed with vital goals. Julian Brandt and Jude Bellingham ran the show from midfield. Meanwhile, at the back, they relied on the experience of Niklas Süle and Mats Hummels – the sole survivor of Dortmund’s last title win.
This is perhaps the sharpest point of contrast with previous contenders. The signings of Haller and Süle last summer were a recognition that Dortmund’s famous youth role model needed a little rebalancing. So alongside bankable young stars such as Bellingham, Reyna and Adeyemi are older heads such as Süle and Hummels, Emre Can and Thomas Meunier, Haller and Raphael Guerreiro, all of whom have won titles elsewhere. This small core of knowledge and expertise was crucial. For a young player, Dortmund has long been the place to grow up. Now, the club hopes, it can also be a place to win.
“It shows that we don’t just develop players, produce high potential, but we can also win trophies,” said sporting director Sebastian Kehl. “The ability to win titles is extremely important to bring players to Dortmund in the future, to convince their families and their agents. We want to be ambitious. But at some point you have to deliver.
A decade after these two clubs contested a brilliant Champions League final, German football has become a one-party state. Bayern have won the last 10 Bundesligas in a row and everyone else’s job was to cheer. And so what’s at stake here isn’t so much a title as an idea. Can you have a dynamic league and a real title race at the same time? Can you keep selling players and get stronger? And in the modern money game, can giants really be overthrown? By 12:09 p.m. Sunday, we’ll have more than a faint idea of the answers.