It’s becoming increasingly difficult to see a race in the Bundlesliga.
Bayern Munich came into the weekend with an 11-point lead after being drawn at home last week by the defending champions Borussia Dortmund, and although they’ll finished the weekend’s 16th round with the same lead, slips by two of their potential challengers gave Munchen an even greater grip on the title.
In Dortmund, a 35th minute sending off of defender Marcel Schmelzer allowed Wolfsburg’s Diego to equalize from the spot. BVB was even, 1-1, but left to play the rest of the match with 10 men. Six minutes later, Naldo put Wolfsburg ahead, and although Jakub Blaszczykowski pulled Dortmund even near the hour mark, Bas Dost’s seventh league goal gave Wolfsburg the upset.
After the match, referee Wolfgang Stark conceded that upset should have never happened. Or, more readily, he conceded the game shouldn’t have played out the way it did, admitting that he erroneously sent off Schmelzer for a hand ball on the goal line when replays showed the ball hit his leg.
“I’ve looked at it again later and unfortunately it was an error of perception on my part,” Stark said.
“I’m sorry, that should not happen. The penalty and the red card were a mistake on my part. That’s annoying.”
Dortmund head coach Jurgen Klopp’s assessment was less forgiving.
“We were 1-0 ahead and Wolfsburg had no chance and then comes the game-winning move. It was a brutal decision.”
Another potential title dark horse, Schalke, was undone by their own red card, though when Jermaine Jones got himself sent off, the Miners were already down two. Vedad Ibisevic’s hat trick gave Stuttgart a 3-1 win and dropped Schalke to fifth place, winless in league since Oct. 11.
“Things are going wrong for us,” Schalke defender Benedikt Hoewedes said post-match. “We dropped an early goal. We were then the better team but lacked ideas after conceding the second goal.”
After Bayern Munich’s 2-0 win at Augsburg, Schalke is 16 points back of Munchen. Dortmund trails by 14. In between them and Bayern is second place Bayer Leverkusen, but even they are 11 points out.
All it takes is one bad Bayern run for Leverkusen to make up some of that distance, but there’s little hint Munchen’s going to allow that. After today’s win, they’re 13-1-2, have a +37 goal difference, and have only allow six goals. For there to be a race in the Bundesliga, Bayern will have to descend to a level of performance we’ve yet to see.
We discussed it earlier this year, but for the second time in three seasons, it appears Germany’s title race will be over before winter break. Two years ago, it was Dortmund lapping the field, and although Jurgen Klopp’s team regressed in the second half of the season, there was little drama in the title race. Bayern has been even more dominant than Dortmund was in 2010-11.
With all of Germany’s teams still alive in Champions and Europa League, there’s plenty of drama left in the season for a Bundesliga fan. In league, however, the only drama will be the fight for Champions League spots. Today, Schalke’s out of the top four, but most would assume Huub Stevens’ team will correct course and pass Eintracht Frankfurt at some point (even if Stevens isn’t around to see it). Bayer has shown enough quality to make a top four finish probable, while it would be a major upset if Dortmund, a team that’s shown so well in this year’s Champions League, fails to finish in the top four.
All that’s left in Germany is to play out those Champions League races and to see how good Bayern can be. They’re on pace to set records for points and goals allowed. They even have some room for regression in their current pace. But although we all can admire greatness, are those records enough to maintain interest in this Bundesliga season? Especially as teams start to drop out of European competition?