Jürgen Klopp's low-budget Borussia Dortmund showed unity – and unlike Bayern Munich played with an insatiable will to win
They tried winding them up, putting up an "Are you missing something?" banner alongside what looked like the remnants of a captured opposition flag. They tried ear-drum busting noise, whistling a thousand whistles. They tried some voodoo, too: 30 litres of pig blood were spilt outside the away supporters' stadium entrance. But nothing the Royal Blues did on and off the pitch, including taking an 11th-minute lead (Jefferson Farfán), could derail the runaway freight-train that Jürgen Klopp's side have been this season. The right-back Lukasz Piszczek's phenomenal equaliser (17min) and a goal from the second-half substitute Sebastian Kehl (63min) swung the match and effectively won the title for "Borussia Unstoppable" (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung). At Schalke's Veltins-Arena, of all places.
Royal Blue attempts "to spit in our soup", as Klopp put it, might have been more successful on Saturday if their strikers had shown their usual accuracy. Both Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and the desert-bound Raúl missed good chances, however, to let Dortmund off the hook. "Looking at my team, you could sense how intense Wednesday [against Bayern Munich] had been and how intense it was today against a really strong opponent," said a triumphant Klopp. "We squeezed out the very last we still had in ourselves after this unbelievable week. At the end it was slightly fortunate but that's not too bad."
Final whistle euphoria gave way to pogo-dancing and caterpillar-forming: "German champions: only BVB," their supporters were singing. The only thing really missing was the trophy, a beer shower or at least mathematical certainty of the Meisterschaft. But the two more necessary points will surely be won over the course of the remaining three games. "We haven't achieved nothing yet" – the Borussia president Reinhard Rauball's overly cautious opinion was, for once, contradicted by the ecstatic Klopp. "You can't win everything at a canter over the course of such a long season," said the 44-year-old, "maybe two, three teams in the world could do it but not in Germany. But [a record] 25 games unbeaten – that's insane. It was inconceivable that we would do that."
If staying at the top is indeed harder than getting there, then Dortmund's successful title defence is even more impressive and surprising than last year's start-to-finish dominance. The win at Schalke didn't quite showcase the attacking prowess of Robert Lewandowski and Shinji Kagawa but was testament to the kind of application and physical commitment that is unrivalled in Europe, Antonio Conte's hard-working Juventus notwithstanding. Theirs is the sock-destroying football of the credit crunch, borne out of the need to get ahead by sheer sweat and innovation, without the sort of resources that buy you the ability to make mistakes.
It's not just that they want it more than their opponents during games: "wanting it" is their game. Dortmund are constantly chasing something at a million miles per hour, whether it's the ball, the opposition, space or the goal, and they rarely allow themselves a breather. A substitution best summed up their incredibly intensity. Marathon man Sven Bender, just back from injury, didn't have his usual stamina and asked Klopp to hook him off at half-time. "It was a match at 120 kilometres but I could only do 90," the midfielder explained.
"Greed at the highest level" is how Klopp put it on Saturday, while others, such as their former coach Ottmar Hitzfeld praised their never-ending "hunger". Dortmund didn't play like champions nor like champions-elect as Bayern's did, but like a team that had never won anything significant before and couldn't wait to taste victory. They should go down as the Insatiables in Bundesliga history.
Even the Bayern president Uli Hoeness agreed that Dortmund had been "the hungrier team" over the course of the season, but that compliment was a back-handed one. "I will only tell them "chapeau" [respect] when they can perform like this in the league and in Europe," said the 60-year-old, implying that Bayern players had been too preoccupied with the Champions League to perform with Dortmund-like urgency.
One suspects that Klopp is more than happy that the media and Bayern, their German Cup final opposition, are concentrating on his team's mental and physical staying power. That way, less light is shed on his superlative tactics. Without the perfect synchronicity of attack, midfield and defence, all that "wanting" would just be aimless roving, not laser-guided "hunt football", as Süddeutsche Zeitung described it. Everything fitted so well together that one could become a believer in Intelligent Design: Dortmund have a young, talented team who follow their young, talented manager with cult-like fervour. They have fanatical, patient fans, a supportive local press and they're a club that have learned from their excesses in the past to invest smartly in up-and-coming players rather than in the finished superstar articles.
"They had to do it that way because they don't have the money," Hoeness said sourly in a Sky interview, before changing tack and accusing the Dortmund general manager Hans-Joachim Watzke of hypocrisy. "He should stop talking about them being poor and us being rich, otherwise he will be the new [former Werder Bremen chief] Willi Lemke. He shouldn't tell fairytales about their whole team costing only €45m in wages."
Watzke coolly pointed to officially audited numbers that backed up the claim, then pleaded for less aggro. "We should get away from the idea that you need to hammer someone in order to show him your respect," he said.
Hoeness also said Dortmund didn't have any world-class players. That's surely debatable but even if it was true, it would only reflect superbly on the work Klopp and his side have done. Where it gets interesting is next season. With key players' wages set to be increased again and more high-profile names like Marco Reus coming in, can Dortmund keep playing like a pack of starving wolves? Should they indeed keep playing that way in the light of their failure on the European stage?
"'Stay hungry' is a recipe for success but an inhuman demand at the same time," wrote FAZ, "because feeling full after success is the most natural feeling in the world." Only time will tell if money, success and better players, the very things that are widely seen as integral to every club's well-being, will take this Dortmund to another level or slowly, invisibly undermine their resolve.
• There probably wasn't enough time but Bayern might as well have switched the usual red stadium lighting for a more ambient, submissive white on Saturday. Dortmund's earlier win instantly transformed the Mainz game into an unofficial friendly. "We knew the game was up," said the sporting director Christian Nerlinger after the drab 0-0. Defeat in the title race and two games without a single goal didn't exactly do wonders for Bayern's confidence ahead of their semi-final first leg against Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday night but the Madrid old boy Arjen Robben has promised a performance "full of heart" on Tuesday. Howard Webb, "a fantastic ref" (José Mourinho), will be in charge for what promises to be a nervy night. On Monday, Heynckes, who won the European Cup with Real Madrid, was still unsure about starting the still not fully fit Bastian Schweinsteiger – he surely must – but in better news, the 66-year-old seems to have watched a lot of Dortmund recently. "Greed, passion and the will to succeed will be decisive factors," he said.
• Ten-man Hertha were close to pulling off the best result of their horrible season when they were leading Leverkusen 3-2 at the BayArena having been 2-0 down after 51 minutes. But Stefan Kiessling's second goal of the day left Otto Rehhagel's team marooned on 17th spot. "It's all about getting to 16th [and the relegation play-off] now. We saw today that we fought like lions," said the sporting director Michael Preetz, this time not in an interview with himself. The topsy-turvy 3-3 draw was thoroughly entertaining but didn't really help either club.
• While Stuttgart (5-1 destroyers of woeful Werder) and Gladbach (3-0 destroyers of beyond the pale Köln) tightened their grip on fourth and fifth spot respectively, Bundesliga "dinosaur" Hamburg are in less danger to become a museum piece. Their 1-0 win over Hannover will give Frank Arnesen another shot at transforming the team. "We won't have as many transfers as this year," promised the sporting director.
• "Manager out!" they were shouting at Lautern, where poor Krassimir Balakov has only been in charge for four weeks. Unfortunately, the Bulgarian has overseen five straight defeats now – Nürnberg's 2-0 win secured survival for the Franconians while the diabolically bad "Red Devils" will surely drop down a division.
• First-timers Augsburg, however, clocked up another great result, a 2-1 away win to Wolfsburg. The manner of the first goal might have been ever slightly so lucky – Torsten Oehrl was hit on the shin by a Alexander Madlung clearance, the ball looped past Diego Benaglio into the Wolves net – but Augsburg deserve their good fortune. Their clever high-tempo pressing has turned them into a mini Dortmund over recent weeks. The three points kept them four clear of relegation and proved especially sweet for the keeper Simon Jentzsch, who'd been humiliated by Magath five years ago when the Wolfsburg coach had substituted him at half-time. "This was not a game against Magath," said Jentzsch magnanimously.
Results: Stuttgart 5-1 Bremen, Schalke 1-2 Dortmund, Kaiserslautern 0-2 Nürnberg, Bayern 0-0 Mainz, Hamburg 1-0 Hannover, Wolfsburg 1-2 Augsburg, Leverkusen 3-3 Hertha, Gladbach 3-0 Köln, Freiburg 0-0 Hoffenheim 0-0.