Jürgen Klopp's all-or-nothing strategy appeared one dimensional as Bayern Munich waged war in the Bundesliga's biggest game
It had to be him. After the buildup of the last couple of days, football's intrinsic sense for melodrama and inevitability made any other outcome impossible. When his personal moment of triumph came at the Signal Iduna Park on Saturday night, he refused to celebrate, of course. The men from team Dortmund looked on, incongruous, as his laughing colleagues surrounded him to offer congratulations and pats on the back. A deeply modest, polite, unassuming type, he left the stadium with a face as red as the Bayern shirt, visibly embarrassed by his own good fortune.
Yes, it's fair to say that Daniel Theweleit didn't really know what to do with himself when the Borussia Dortmund press officer read out his name at the beginning of the post-match press conference. The Cologne-based freelancer, it turned out, had correctly predicted Bayern's 3-0 win in the press room's predictor game. It was a surreal scene. Jürgen Klopp's face on the podium was a picture as a Borussia official congratulated the journalist for foreseeing a heavy defeat of the Black and Yellows.
But there was another level of awkwardness piled on top of that, beyond the result: only on Thursday, the very same Theweleit had felt the full force of Klopp's ire when he had confronted him with a theory – an accusation, really – that has been doing the rounds in German football for months now. Was Klopp's high-intensity, super-athletic style perhaps one of the factors behind the long list of injuries? "A disgusting question," the coach sneered, with barely controlled rage. Elsewhere, Theweleit might have been banned for his impertinence. Instead, he was given a prize 48 hours later.
The whole of Saturday had a similar dreamlike, outlandish sheen to it. There was Mario Götze's goal, for a start, the utter predictability of which could only result in a flood of "ausgerechnet Götze" headlines. "Ausgerechnet" is the word Germans always use when former players or other obvious candidates do something you'd expect them to. It literally translates as "calculated" and suggests that someone, somewhere would have done the numbers and come up with the formula for maximum histrionics.
It was also extremely strange to see a Pep Guardiola team pumping long balls forward in the first half. Klopp counted "more long balls than in the last three years combined" from the opposition but also recognised the thinking behind the tactic – tactics Guardiola was concerned had been leaked by a mole. "They wanted to play around our counter-pressing, our biggest strength," the Dortmund manager explained.
This and the installation of Europe's best holding midfielder, Javier Martínez, as a false 10 in the opposition half was an interesting ploy from the Bayern coach. Essentially defensive in nature ("war in the opposite half," is how Giovanni Trapattoni described the route one approach during his time in Munich), it was at the same time only 50% of the strategy, as Klopp begrudgingly noted.
After the break, Guardiola changed the setup completely again by introducing Götze and Thiago and saw his Bayern team attack from deeper positions and with much more control. "OK, cool move," Klopp said, "you can do it like that, first you work us with long balls and then you bring on the 1.70m boys."
In truth, Borussia also had their best spell after the Götze's outside-of-the-boot poke into the corner – "a shame he didn't score such goals for us, for example against Marseille in 2011," said Klopp – but they couldn't take their chances and Arjen Robben's second killed off the game as a contest. The Yellow Wall started singing defiantly and didn't miss a beat when Thomas Müller added a third that was a bit too much. They were still singing long after the finale whistle. "Gänsehaut", they call it in German. Goose bumps.
It was a moving finish to the biggest Klassiker ever. Two hundred and seven countries – everyone apart from North Korea and Pakistan, apparently – tuned in. The game didn't disappoint even if the result did, in the context of the title race. Second-placed Leverkusen will stick around for a bit longer but it's hard to see third-placed Dortmund eating into the seven-point gap between them and Bayern.
A defensively depleted Borussia had pushed the treble winners pretty hard and could have got at least a point on another day. In a wider sense, however, the 90 minutes served as reminder that it'll be a long time before a real shift in power in the Bundesliga between these two becomes a possibility. Bayern's squad is built to deal with all eventualities, Dortmund's isn't yet. "It's a purely mathematical question," explained the BVB sporting director Michael Zorc before the game. "Look what they can spend and what we spend". The Bavarians' team wage bill (€200m) is approximately double that of their closest rivals.
Zorc had also admitted in an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung before the match that Tuesday's match with Napoli is a more important fixture. Dortmund don't have to win the league but getting knocked out in the group stage of the Champions League would cost them a lot of money and send a dangerous message to those who might be tempted to move elsewhere next summer.
There's also one more, less noted difference between the sides this season. While Bayern have scaled new heights in terms of tactical flexibility and the ability to change personnel without loss of traction, Dortmund have remained somewhat one-dimensional.
Klopp actually promised that his team would return to an even more intense pressing game in this campaign after small steps towards a more measured approach had failed to bring the right results domestically. For all its thrills, his all-or-nothing game has become a little predictable, and the huge demands it imposes on the legs and minds of his players is clear to see, even if you don't buy the (spurious) link to injuries.
Dortmund run a lot and, thus, need to rest a lot. That's only possible with a big enough squad (which they don't have) or with fewer games (which they might soon have). Without rotation, that bit of sharpness goes missing. It's probably more than a coincidence that their forwards are struggling to convert chances, and the third defeat in a row in all competitions was also the third game in a row in which Klopp's men seemed to run out of steam in the final 15 minutes.
For the club, success simply means consolidation in the Champions League so this season can still amount to another chapter in the "modern fairytale" that they have written, according to their CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke.
But Klopp's increasingly prickly demeanour towards the (local) press and dark mutterings about his abrasive behaviour inside the club arouse the suspicion that the "real love" (Echte Liebe) at the Signal Iduna Park – as the club mantra has it – might not be infinite.
Results: Stuttgart 0-2 Mönchengladbach, Borussia Dortmund 0-3 Bayern Munich, Eintracht 3-3 Schalke 04, Nürnberg 1-1 Wolfsburg, FC Augsburg 2-0 Hoffenheim, Hamburger SV 3-1 Hannover 96, Hertha BSC 0-1 Bayer, Braunschweig 0-1 SC Freiburg, Werder Bremen 2-3 Mainz 05