Right to the wire: Three takeaways from the stalemate in Leipzig
Niko Kovač’s men were the better side against a solid but unadventurous Leipzig outfit. They bossed the possession, and created better chances. They even had the ball in the net, only to be denied by the cruellest of VAR decisions.
Two points in front of Borussia Dortmund, Bayern’s superior goal difference means that they need just a point in their final match at the Allianz Arena against Eintracht Frankfurt.
When Leon Goretzka’s sumptuous volley bulged the back of the Leipzig net after 50 minutes, every Bayern fan was in dreamland. Finally, the deadlock had been broken. Regardless of what Dortmund were up to against Fortuna Düsseldorf, the title was ours. It was a goal worthy of the occasion, and more than worthy of being a title-clincher. Right up there with Bastian Schweinsteiger’s memorable back-heeled finish against Frankfurt in 2013.
Then came the wait. The chat. No big deal, we all thought. The officials will have their discussion, confirm the goal, and referee Manuel Gräfe would return to the centre circle to signal the restart. But no. For two agonising minutes, the coveted silver salad dish was in our grasp. Only to be cruelly snatched away. In the buildup before the ball fell to Goretzka, Robert Lewandowski had been deemed offside. Apparently, his big toe was in front of the last Leipzig defender.
The decision was tighter than tight. Dependent on what paused image you see, you can reach any conclusion you want. To all intents and purposes, Lewy was dead level. There was no advantage to be gained. VAR is what it is, and one could argue that the letter of the law was invoked. But it is hard not to argue that a perfectly good goal was chalked off. Uli Hoeneß later described it as “the joke of the year”, which was probably a bit much. But we all know how he felt.
We hope that the destination of the title does not come down to this controversial moment, but by the same token we can look back to a fortnight ago and that crapshow in Nürnberg.
This is not the last time we will be seeing Leipzig this season. In two weeks time, Bayern line up against the fizzy pop mob in Berlin for the DFB-Pokal final. From today’s performance, there is not much to fear. Leipzig have the meanest defence in the Bundesliga this season, and today’s display showed why. There was not much else.
That said, for all their order and solidity, Ralf Rangnick’s side were pretty unadventurous. They hardly ever threatened Sven Ulreich in the Bayern goal, and their much-fêted attack was closed down effectively by an equally well-drilled Bavarian back line. Niklas Süle is getting better and better, Mats Hummels was as solid as a rock, and the midfield duo of Goretzka and Thiago was also effective in dampening the Leipzig attack.
Things will be different in Berlin, of course. There is a massive difference between the Bundesliga and the Pokal, and Bayern’s two recent and highly contrasting encounters against Werder Bremen were a perfect illustration of that. With their place in next year’s Champions League already secure, Leipzig had nothing to play for. In two week’s time, they will be chasing their first major silverware.
Football is all about ifs and buts. If Bayern had gone into the Nürnberg game a fortnight ago with a little less self-entitlement, we would have been celebrating our latest Bundesliga triumph right now. Had Lewy’s big toe been a little smaller this afternoon, we would have been piling up the empty Maß glasses.
If, but, whatever.
The fact remains that Bayern are two points in front of Dortmund, and they are masters of their own destiny. A win next week against Eintracht Frankfurt will seal the deal, and given the Bavarians’ massively superior goal difference even a draw will do. In front of their own fans at the Allianz Arena, Die Roten will be looking to finish the season how they started it: by giving Frankfurt a sound hammering.
The task is clear enough, but something tells me that the drama is not quite done yet. That nagging feeling we all have as football fans. Frankfurt are one of a number of teams chasing that final Champions League place, and will not roll over easily. Then there is the added frisson of Niko Kovač’s first coaching shot at a Bundesliga title resting on a do-or-die final-week encounter against his former charges.
Part of me wishes that the whole thing was settled already. At the same time, however, I cannot wait for next week.