Wednesday’s Bundesliga results saw Mainz claim a stunning 2-1 victory at league leaders Bayern Munich, while Borussia Dortmund took all three points at Darmstadt. Just like that, Bayern’s lead on Dortmund was slashed from eight points to just five, with Saturday’s showdown in "Der Klassiker" now looming large as the pivotal point in the title race.
For the past three months, Bayern looked a surefire bet to cruise toward the first four-peat in league history. Here are five reasons why that is no longer the case.
Mathematically speaking, Saturday’s contest at the Signal Iduna Park (12:30 p.m. ET, FOX Soccer Plus and FOX Sports GO) provides the most obvious reason why Dortmund’s titles hopes are still very much alive. A victory over their rivals would reduce the gap to two points with nine games to play, as close as Dortmund have been to Bayern since Matchday 6.
Only a draw, on the other hand, would make a title charge far less probable, as Bayern don’t figure to drop enough points thereafter for BVB to catch up. Consider this a must-win for Dortmund, or else the following points are probably moot.
Dortmund are on fire
Thomas Tuchel has his side playing their best stretch of football since taking the reins from Jurgen Klopp last summer. Dortmund have won seven games in a row in all competitions and lost just one of their last 12, an avoidable 2-1 defeat at Koln in which Dortmund led until the 82nd minute.
As good as Bayern have been since the turn of the calendar year (W6 D2 L1 in all comps), Dortmund have been just a tick better (W9, D1, L0). With an offense that’s rolling right now and finally spared of injuries, there’s no reason to think BVB can’t keep up their current level of play.
Bayern’s defense remains a question mark
Injuries to Jerome Boateng, Holger Badstuber, Mehdi Benatia and Javi Martinez left Bayern’s defense in such dire straits that the club was forced to pick up Bundesliga castoff Serdar Tasci from Spartak Moscow in January. Tasci has flopped in minimal action, and Pep Guardiola has instead made do with David Alaba and 21-year-old midfielder Joshua Kimmich as his top two center backs. That may have worked out against the likes of Darmstadt and Augsburg, but it came back to bite Bayern at Juventus … and may again in Dortmund.
Benatia has since worked his way back into the side, but he’s prone to mistakes and doesn’t hide the key issue: Boateng is irreplaceable, but won’t return until at least mid-April. Bayern will miss his pace, instincts and vision greatly against the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Marco Reus, and beyond Saturday as well.
Discontent is inevitable among Bayern’s crowded attack
Pep Guardiola famously once said he wished he had "a thousand midfielders," but what if they’re all really, really good and all of them are healthy? With Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben back in form, coupled with the impending return of Mario Goetze, Bayern’s already overcrowded midfield is bursting at the seams.
Douglas Costa and Kingsley Coman have been revelations this season, and then there’s Thomas Muller and Guardiola’s darling Thiago Alcantara. None of these players are known to take demotions well, and intrasquad quarrels for playing time have derailed big clubs in the past.
Is Guardiola’s selection dilemma a good problem to have? Absolutely. But discontent among the team is inevitable, and it could make for some interesting times ahead.
The remaining schedule
After this weekend, Bayern face a marginally tougher finish to the campaign than Dortmund will. Bayern have games remaining against four of the Bundesliga’s top seven teams: Borussia Moenchengladbach, Hertha Berlin, Schalke and Bayer Leverkusen. Out of those, Gladbach and Leverkusen already managed to take points from Bayern this season. Dortmund, meanwhile, face only three such teams: Schalke, Hertha and that surprising Mainz team that just beat Bayern.
Admittedly, strength of schedule won’t matter much if Bayern come out of Dortmund with at least a point. But should BVB hold the fort on Saturday, a draw here and a draw there could make all the difference down the road. In any case, though it’s hard not to think Bayern will emerge victorious on May 14, it’s easier to envision Dortmund doing so after Wednesday’s three-point swing.