After the most dramatic final Bundesliga matchday in recent memory, Bayern Munich is once again a title winner as Borussia Dortmund goes empty handed.
Heading into the round two points ahead of Bayern, Dortmund needed to beat mid-table Mainz at home to break the decades-long Bavarian stranglehold on the title.
After 25 minutes, Dortmund was 2-0 down, having conceded goals either side of a missed Sebastien Haller penalty, just the Ivorian’s second miss in 28 attempts throughout his career.
The draw, coupled with Bayern’s last-minute 2-1 win at Cologne, meant Dortmund gave away its best chance in a decade of winning the title.
Dortmund again finished second to Bayern, this time on goal difference, the seventh time in the past 11 seasons the club has ended as runner up, with the title going to Munich in each of those seasons.
“The next few days will be brutal” said captain Mats Hummels, the only Dortmund player to have tasted title success with the side.
Defender Thomas Meunier tweeted on Sunday “no apologies for this disastrous end”, saying “everything was in our hands (but) we destroyed the hopes of a city”.
Club CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke, who watched Dortmund lose the title wearing his ‘lucky’ sweater on Saturday despite the May heat, told Kicker on Sunday it “feels worse than the Champions League final loss of 2013”.
That loss, again to Bayern, came during the heady days of the Jurgen Klopp reign when Dortmund had won two league titles and could realistically have expected the success to continue.
Now, the reality for Dortmund is that even in a season where Bayern deemed results to be so poor it fired its manager and later its CEO and sporting director, Dortmund was still unable to take advantage.
The question now for supporters is when the next chance will come -- and whether Dortmund will then somehow be ready to take advantage.
‘In our hands’
Before the game, fans in Dortmund’s famous yellow wall unveiled a banner saying “we have it in our hands” in giant yellow letters on a black background.
Intended as a pre-match rallying cry to push the team to one final victory, as the tears flowed after the match the banner took on a different meaning, highlighting just how close but how far Dortmund was from a memorable victory.
While the gap in finances between the sides is notable -- the difference between Bayern and Dortmund’s wage bill is bigger than between Dortmund and the Bundesliga’s 18th-placed side -- the result again highlighted a mental fragility which has dogged the club since Klopp’s departure.
On four occasions this season, Bayern’s stumbles meant Dortmund finished a round atop the table. On each occasion, Dortmund dropped points in the next match, allowing Bayern to return to the summit -- as it did on Saturday to claim the title.
Watzke said as much on Sunday, telling Kicker “one or two players did not deal with the pressure too well”.
Hope for Dortmund?
After the game, a downcast Dortmund sporting director Sebastian Kehl told reporters his side had made things too difficult for themselves after a poor start to the season.
“We dropped too many points in the first part of the year” Kehl explained.
Dortmund entered the winter break nine points behind Bayern, having lost six times in its opening 15 matches.
Watzke on Sunday shared the sentiments, saying “we did not lose the championship yesterday, we lost it in the first half of the season.”
Kehl, in his first year in the job, spent big to bring in establish players rather than relying on young talents.
Dortmund boosted its struggling defence with Germany’s centre-back pairing of Niklas Sule and Nico Schlotterbeck, the former coming on a free from Bayern, while replacing Erling Haaland with the 28-year-old Sebastien Haller.
Hit by injury in 2022, when Dortmund got its full complement of players back in 2023, the side dropped just 11 of a possible 54 points.
Extrapolated over a year, that would have seen Dortmund reach 80 points -- enough to win the title in four of the past five seasons.
Although the likely loss of Jude Bellingham will leave a hole in midfield, Dortmund looks set to avoid a widespread cleanout.
Kehl said on Saturday “at a certain moment, we will attack again.” Whether they will finish the job remains to be seen.
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