"There is no perfect football," Pep Guardiola insisted after the final whistle. It may have been meant as a comforting note to the opposition – no one's ever quite invincible, he was saying – but it didn't sound too convincing. Even the hard-to-please Catalan manager couldn't help but rank Bayern Munich's casual 5-0 destruction of Eintracht Frankfurt as "the best Bundesliga performance" of his reign. It really came close to the perfect win, especially from his personal vantage point. After a series of uninspiring, minimum-effort matches, Sunday saw Bayern giving Guardiola's ideals shape on the pitch again.
The home side passed the ball around with a sense of ease and purpose not seen since the high-watermark of Bavarian Guardiola-ism, the 3-1 win at Manchester City. The goals, from Mario Götze, Franck Ribéry, Arjen Robben, Dante and Mario Mandzukic, were a mere inevitable by-product of their absurd superiority. "Bayern are in a different league," said the opposition manager Armin Veh. "The players are worth every cent."
The fact that the manager's Wunschspieler (the player he wanted the board to buy) Thiago Alcântara administered a midfield master-class in the Allianz Arena, will have pleased Guardiola even more. "Thiago or nothing," he had told Bayern in the summer. This game came close to "Thiago and nothing" at times: the Spanish international set a new Bundesliga record with 185 touches and 148 successful passes. The 22-year-old's unprecedented domination of proceedings came in the absence of Toni Kroos, who was left on the bench after a spot of petulance. The German midfielder, who is locked in contract renegotiations, had theatrically thrown down his gloves after his substitution during Wednesday's 2-1 victory over Stuttgart. Thiago's brilliance not only vindicated Guardiola's decision but also helped to reinforce the warning message that was being sent to Kroos and his advisers: don't overplay your hand.
An extremely pleasant evening for those of the red persuasion was rounded off by impressive political statements from Bayern's ultras. They honoured their Jewish former club president, Kurt Landauer, who was persecuted by the Nazis, with a choreography and also unveiled a small banner that read "football is everything, including gay".
Those were the good bits. Unfortunately for the league leaders, however, the game might well be remembered for something completely different and altogether more troubling. For Veh had done something that's been fairly commonplace in the Premier League in recent years but hitherto unseen in the Bundesliga: he had left out two regulars, Sebastian Rode and Carlos Zembrano, in order that they could feature in the relegation six-pointers against Braunschweig next week. They were both one yellow card away from suspension.
A pragmatic, smart decision, you might say, and you wouldn't be wrong. But that doesn't make it less upsetting. For the first time ever, a Bundesliga manager, has effectively thrown in the towel before kick-off. "It's a catastrophic message," wrote Reviersport in a strong editorial. "Veh has basically denied that his team had any chance to succeed. This was a Europa League participant cowardly lying down for a table topper – a pathetic attitude in sporting terms."
That's one view. Veh's move could also be read as a protest against Bayern's hegemony in the league. He knew he would receive little flak for his capitulation from their rival title contenders because they no longer see themselves as credible contenders in the first place. Unbeaten Bayern are 13 points clear of Leverkusen (2-1 winners v Stuttgart) and 17 points ahead of Dortmund (2-1 at Braunschweig), so who apart from Braunschweig would have possibly cared? If the reaction on social media is anything to go by, there's a lot of support for Veh's honesty – or cynicism – and an appetite for repeats. The rest of the league could effectively boycott Bayern by sending out the reserves in the remaining fixtures, and Guardiola's title would be rendered meaningless.
It's not so much Bayern's financial power that unnerves rival fans as the perceived misuse of their funds systematically to weaken opponents. Hans-Joachim Watzke's recent accusation that Bayern were trying "to destroy Dortmund" by picking up Götze and Robert Lewandowski served to underline that age-old notion. It's been repeated so often that it has become accepted as a universal football truth by anyone but Bayern themselves. "Last year, Götze and Lewandowski played for Dortmund, and they were 25 points behind us," Bayern's ambassador Paul Breitner angrily shot back on Sunday.
The reality is certainly a bit more complex. Of the current Bayern team, Götze is the only player who comfortably fits the alleged pattern. It is idle to speculate whether Bayern's and Dortmund's positions in the league would be materially different if that particular transfer hadn't happened. But even if one accepts that the Black and Yellows have ample reason to feel aggrieved, that doesn't account for the weakness of the rest of the field. The two other recent champions, Stuttgart (2007) and Wolfsburg (2009) didn't need Bayern to snatch any of their players to implode within six months of their triumphs. Has Schalke's progress since gatecrashing the Champions League semi-finals in 2011 really been hampered because they sold their goalkeeper to Bayern a couple of months later? No one at Hamburger SV, a club who were wealthier and more successful than Bayern in 1983, has yet blamed three decades of subsequent failure on the sale of Daniel Van Buyten to Munich in 2006.
Bremen? Regularly and happily sold to plenty of other clubs, namely Schalke. And whenever the example of Leverkusen, who lost the trio of Lúcio, Zé Roberto and Michael Ballack to Bayern after 2002, is mentioned, it's conveniently forgotten that the more pertinent, underlying reason for the breakup of that team was the end of unsustainable cash injections from parent-company Bayer in the wake of the Kirch crisis.
Interestingly, Bayern's failures in Europe between 2001 and 2010 were routinely blamed on them buying only the best of the Bundesliga. Now that they're able to cast their web much wider and rely more on homegrown players, there should actually be a higher number of very good players than ever before left at the other clubs in the league. More are being produced, in any case.
The real problem for the Bundesliga, then, is neither Bayern's systematic destruction of their rivals nor their suffocating wealth. Competitive imbalance in financial terms is still lower in the Bundesliga than in Serie A and in Spain, where Real Madrid and Barcelona will pay about 20 times as much for their squad than the smallest team. In Germany, the factor is closer to 13.
No, it's something else. Unlike the 70s team of Sepp Maier, Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller, who were eminently beatable domestically, and unlike countless other star-studded Bayern teams who routinely found a way to sabotage their own output, the current crop consists of exceptionally motivated professionals who are being coached at a level that is in line with their capabilities. It's a rare, happy constellation, and history suggests it won't last indefinitely. In the meantime, it's down to everyone else to raise their game, even if raising the white flag will be seen as the much easier option.
Results: Braunschweig 1-2 Dortmund, Leverkusen 2-1 Stuttgart, Schalke 2-1 Wolfsburg, Augsburg 3-1 Bremen, Mainz 2-0 Freiburg, Hannover 3-1 Gladbach, Hertha 1-1 Nürnberg, Hoffenheim 3-0 Hamburger SV, Bayern 5-0 Frankfurt.
Talking points to follow …