Four things we learned from Der Klassiker
On November 10, Borussia Dortmund hosted Bayern Munich in the 99th league edition of Der Klassiker. With Borussia Dortmund atop the Bundesliga and Bayern Munich struggling to catch up, this encounter was considered a must-watch in a packed weekend of club football.
Lucky viewers were treated to an exciting duel full of wonderful goals and consistent action. The lead changed hands no less than three times across the 90 minutes, with Bayern twice gaining the advantage and Dortmund twice whisking it away. The hosts would get the last laugh in the 73rd minute when Paco Alcacer recorded the game-winner. The 3-2 victory extended Dortmund's lead over second placed-Borussia Monchengladbach to four points and saw Bayern drop to fifth.
Der Klassiker lived up to its billing and proved to be a mesmerizing watch for all those who tuned in. It also taught us a few lessons about both the teams and the players involved. To relive and understand how Dortmund and Bayern's league seasons may play out as a result, let's look back at four things we learned from their latest encounter.
This Borussia Dortmund is for real
I have to admit, I had strong doubts Borussia Dortmund's form would go on for this long. It's not that I don't enjoy watching the team; who doesn't want to see a side other than Bayern Munich dominate the Bundesliga? But given Dortmund's tendency to collapse in October and November, I wasn't confident they could keep up their unbeaten league form for this long. Clearly, I was wrong.
Less than three weeks after drumming Atletico Madrid 4-0 in the UEFA Champions League, Borussia Dortmund put Bayern Munich to the sword with a captivating 3-2 victory. Despite the injured Roman Burki's exclusion, Borussia Dortmund clicked well to topple the reigning league champions. Everything that could've gone right for them did, particularly in the second half. The hosts fought back from being one goal down twice and took the lead with less than 20 minutes to go. Borussia Dortmund were extravagant offensively, astute defensively, and smart tactically, and they proved that they are for real this year. Granted, teams have only about a third of the season remaining (11 games played from 34), so there's still a very long way to go. But given the energy and attitude they showed against Bayern Munich, Dortmund's form certainly looks sustainable.
Manuel Neuer is no longer the world's best
To say 2018 has been unkind to Manuel Neuer would be an understatement. This year has arguably been the worst of the Bayern Munich and Germany captain's 14-season career. Mishaps at both at the club and national team levels have cast doubts on just how good of a goalkeeper he still is, and although he is still very confident in his abilities, his apathetic play suggests a false sense of self-belief more than anything else.
The 32-year old conceded three goals to Borussia Dortmund, all of which came in the second half. It's the seventh consecutive league game that he's failed to keep a clean sheet in. It's also the second time this season he's given up three goals in a single match. His weakness in approaching an attacking Marco Reus caused him to concede a foul and penalty to the Dortmund captain on their first goal, and his eagerness resulted in him biting too early on Paco Alcacer's game-winner. With the consistently-brilliant plays of Jan Oblak, David De Gea and Marc-Andre ter Stegen, as well as Neuer's age (33-years old by the season's end), poor play and recent injury problems, it's safe to say that the German is no longer the world's number one goalkeeper.
When healthy, Marco Reus is a top European player
Marco Reus is often injured. Like, a lot. Per transfermarkt.com, the German has missed over 100 Borussia Dortmund games due to injury. Reus hasn't played 30+ league games since the 2013/2014 season, and as a result, most of us forgot just how good he can be. Thankfully, we have Der Klassiker and the 2018/2019 season to remind us.
Coming into Matchday 11, Marco Reus had scored six goals and bagged four assists in 10 league games, making him one of the most prolific attacking threats in the Bundesliga. He added to his tally with two goals in Der Klassiker, both of which brought Dortmund level with Bayern Munich. Reus proved too hot to handle for Bayern's vulnerable defense and his technique was unmatched by anyone on the pitch. His Bundesliga goal tally of eight is the most he's managed in a single league campaign since the 2015/2016 season, and it's a sign that Marco Reus has returned as a top-class European talent.
Bar Lewandowski, Bayern's attack and midfield is non-existent
What happened to Bayern Munich? After starting the season with seven consecutive wins, including a 5-0 demolition of Eintracht Frankfurt in the DFL-Supercup, the Bavarians have dropped out of the Bundesliga's top four thanks to losses to Hertha Berlin, Borussia Monchengladbach and now Borussia Dortmund. Clearly, there are issues that need to be addressed, and none are more apparent than Bayern's problems in the midfield and the attack.
In the midfield, Leon Goretzka and Javi Martinez lacked imagination and motivation. They failed to provide stability when Bayern were ahead, and they failed to provide drive when Bayern were behind. It was rather surprising because they have had their moments of greatness this season, but their inability to perform like they did against, for example, AEK Athens, on a consistent basis, made them a liability in this game. As for the attack, Thomas Muller, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery should no longer cut it for Bayern Munich. Although the triumvirate served as Bayern's Cerberus card in the past, the trio look way past their due date. And while it's great that the Bavarians can rely on a world-class striker like Robert Lewandowski, the fact that Sandro Wagner is the best bench forward they can call upon shows how thin their depth is. Bayern Munich's problems lie in very obvious places and at this rate, they'll need to do some January shopping if they want to salvage their season.