The last time? The last time was fresh enough in the memory that you hardly needed to be a historian to have it instantly spring to mind. Bayern Munich had been here before, and not so long ago. While the last time had represented a more profound nadir and, conversely, the beginning of a journey to an improbable high, neither extreme felt likely here. This was neither the end of one thing nor the start of something else.
As with much of the Thomas Tuchel era (can it only be nine months on Christmas Eve?), even attempting to decipher it all feels like a fool’s errand. Four years ago Bayern had also received a dizzying pounding at Eintracht Frankfurt, by exactly the same score. 5-1. That had lasting consequences, firstly marking the end of the Niko Kovac era and then ushering in Hansi Flick’s. From humiliation on free-to-air to TV – the game had been one of the handful a season opened up outside subscriptions – to sealing the treble in Lisbon. A nine-month whirlwind that made Tuchel’s tenure to date feel like a Sunday afternoon stroll.
This, Bayern’s first Bundesliga defeat of the season after an unbeaten run that has not always been as convincing as is customary, was almost frivolity, certainly from a neutral perspective – “a memorable game full of absurd mistakes,” as Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Martin Schneider justly framed it. Eintracht had hardly approached this game exuding danger. Dino Toppmöller’s team were on a run of four consecutive defeats, and “we played really badly in the last two games,” the coach told Sky of a sequence that concluded with midweek DFB-Pokal elimination by Saarbrücken, vanquishers of Bayern in the previous round. They bared their teeth here, though, scoring three times without reply in the opening 36 minutes, with Omar Marmoush and Éric Junior Dina Ebimbe causing havoc in probably their best games for the club.
As for Bayern? Inside that November 2019 implosion there had been a silver lining, with Kovac using Alphonso Davies as an emergency left-back for the first time, a position the Canadian went on to become one of the planet’s best in, contributing hugely to Bayern’s treble. There was no such benefit immediately apparent in the wreckage of this more unexpected battering. Quite apart from Davies’ diminished form since the halcyon days of Flick’s thrilling first year in charge, this was simply not his day. He was withdrawn at half-time due to an ankle injury that will keep him out for several weeks. His counterpart at full-back, Noussair Mazraoui, was also dragged off at the interval though more on performance-related criteria. Those who continue to insist that he is not of sufficient quality to start for Bayern collected plenty of ammunition here, as he was complicit in each of the first three goals to varying degrees.
Tuchel, widely criticised in the German media for choosing Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting to operate just off Harry Kane rather than Thomas Müller, again invited questions with his incredible frankness. “Maybe we confused the players by giving them more information after the warm-up,” he pondered aloud, having explained how he adjusted the team’s tactics after realising Eintracht would go with a 4-4-2. It was no more feasible than the explanation considered by Leon Goretzka, a sombre-faced guest on Das Aktuelle Sportstudio on Saturday night, confronted by the suggestion that Bayern were thrown off-kilter by their mini-hiatus following last week’s scheduled game with Union Berlin being snowed off. “We are used to playing every three days,” the midfielder said, while conceding it was “an answer but not one that can be used as an excuse”.
Bayern’s sporting director, Christoph Freund, mused if it had been “an attitude issue” on Sport 1’s Doppelpass on Sunday morning, while offering praise to Frankfurt. “They did a great job,” he said. “They were really aggressive, really willing and we weren’t that ready.” That last clause, perhaps, came closest to the crux of it. Even if this ended the unbeaten run, there have been holes apparent in Bayern’s game before now, covered up by Harry Kane’s cold-bloodedness and their rivals’ shortcomings. This may not signal the blood-letting of four years ago but whatever happens next, this Saturday will almost certainly focus minds when it comes to the January transfer window.
Had Stuttgart’s half-time lead in Sunday afternoon’s biggie against Leverkusen held, Bayern would have been pushed down to third but it might have done them a favour, allowing them to try and reel in the leaders with their game in hand. Instead, after taking a first-half flaming from an on-form home side who deservedly led through Chris Führich, Xabi Alonso’s team responded in kind with Florian Wirtz netting an excellent equaliser and Granit Xhaka hitting the post from way out in a whirlwind start to the second period. Even if there were no definitive conclusions this was a satisfying showpiece, with both sides having moments which underlined why they have been so successful to date. Stuttgart go to Bayern next weekend in fine fettle, “a special game because of my past in Munich,” their coach, Sebastian Hoeness, said.
That Bayern-Union match will now be played on 24 January, and how Nenad Bjelica might offer thanks for last week’s snow. The Croatian instead made his debut on the Berliners’ bench in Saturday’s lower-reaches showdown with Borussia Mönchengladbach and Köpenick leapt with joy at seeing a first win for their team since the end of August. Bjelica, who had admitted to being “nervous” before the game, was quickly in the thick of things as he celebrated Benedict Hollerbach’s first-half goal which gave Union a 2-0 lead, on the way to an eventual 3-1 victory, on the touchline with his new charges. “I haven’t been there for the last three months” he explained, “but I feel the club, I feel the fans, I feel the players and how difficult it has been for everyone.”
Borussia Dortmund’s trough in form continued after the meek Pokal exit to Stuttgart in the week as they went down at home to RB Leipzig, leaving them four points behind their fourth-placed visitors. Yet there was much more to the game than even the 3-2 score. “We were the better team before the sending off,” Edin Terzic told ESPN, “and I think we were the better team in the second half even when we were one man down.” While a heavily depleted BVB’s industry kept Marco Rose’s team honest, there was no denying how damaging this was (and the coach made clear his displeasure at Mats Hummels for the last-man foul on Loïs Openda that earned him his red). Not least to Terzic, despite the board’s constant backing, with only five points taken from the last six Bundesliga matches.
Werder Bremen ended their own winless run, stopping themselves getting dragged too far into the scrap at the bottom with a 2-0 win over Augsburg. Marvin Ducksch, as so often, was their inspiration with a goal and an assist. “In the crucial moments he is worth his weight in gold for us,” said Niklas Stark, who benefited from Ducksch’s corner delivery to score the opener. The last goal Werder scored from a corner, incidentally, was back in January – in the 7-1 loss at Köln.