Another Der Klassiker has come and gone, and for now the seventh league match in a row, Dortmund have come away without a point. There have been times over the last few years when Bayern Munich have been the undisputed better side and come away with a deserved lopsided scoreline. Yesterday’s match was not one of these instances.
For vast stretches of the game, BVB went toe-to-toe with Bayern, pinning them back in their half and creating better chances. They took the lead in the opening minutes after a strong start, with a beautiful goal from Julian Brandt, who juked past Lucas Hernandez and Alphonso Davies before burying a shot past Manuel Neuer. Despite a pair of catastrophic errors that gave Bayern a 2-1 lead heading into half time, BVB came out strong and managed to erase the deficit, thanks to a beautiful curled shot from Erling Haaland. BVB continued to neutralize Bayern’s potent offense and midfield, and it looked like a possible winner was seriously within reach.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. A routine corner in the 75th minute turned into disaster for Borussia Dortmund, when the cross from Serge Gnabry inadvertently clattered off of Mats Hummels’ arm inside the penalty box. Hummels was going for the ball with his head, and his arm was in the position it was in because he was shoved by Thomas Muller into Jude Bellingham and he was trying to avoid a collision. Nevertheless, after consulting VAR, referee Felix Zwayer decided to award a penalty, which Robert Lewandowski promptly buried.
The match ended 3-2 to Bayern Munich, and you could practically feel the rage emanating from the BVB players in their post-game interviews. Whether it was Thomas Meunier, Erling Haaland, or Jude Bellingham, you got the feeling that BVB’s players all felt that Zwayer’s call had gifted Bayern a win that they didn’t necessarily deserve.
However, given the way the match went, I think Zwayer is far from the only one deserving of blame. Allow me to explain.
Let’s start with the positives
Immediately after the match, it seemed that the entire fanbase was absolutely seething at referee Felix Zwayer. A smaller portion of fans were seething at Mats Hummels. Very few people were discussing the fact that by and large, BVB actually played very well. Aside from the two gaffes and the penalty, they limited Bayern to a handful of half-chances and toothless shots from long range. They generated some good chances of their own, and even scored a pair of gorgeous goals.
Despite going into the second half down a goal, BVB came out of the gate fighting. They kept Bayern pinned in their own zone for much of the second half, and were rewarded for their efforts with an equalizer. Despite losing Brandt to a head injury, BVB continued to look dangerous up until the controversial penalty was given.
BVB were fortunate that Bayern were missing Joshua Kimmich, their best midfielder, but even so, it was still impressive to see Mahmoud Dahoud, Jude Bellingham, and Emre Can continuously maintain pressure on Corentin Tolisso and Leon Goretzka. They successfully prevented Bayern’s midfield from controlling the game, something very few clubs can claim.
Unfortunately, as you all know, these positives were not enough to overcome BVB’s errors and one very controversial referee decision, which I must now discuss.
Allow me to quote from my match preview for Der Klassiker:
The biggest key to the game [will be] to not literally hand Bayern a win by doing stupid shit like this...
The “this” in question was the instance back in the Supercup, when Manuel Akanji lazily played an unforced pass directly into Corentin Tolisso, resulting in an easy goal for Bayern. My point was that it’s hard enough to beat Bayern without making mistakes, so when you easily gift them goals by making uncontested errors at the back, your chances of winning are practically nil.
You could imagine my rage when BVB went out and did EXACTLY THIS, not ONCE, but TWICE within the first 45 minutes.
This is the really egregious mistake, the one that gave Bayern their first goal. Emre Can plays a back pass to Mats Hummels, and Thomas Muller presses him. As you can see in the screenshot below, when Hummels receives the ball, he isn’t immediately under pressure. Muller is coming, but Hummels has time. He could easily either turn and play a ball to Raphael Guerreiro, knock it to Manuel Akanji, or if neither of those players manage to get open, he can turn around and play it safely back to Gregor Kobel, who can then hoof it up the field.
Instead, Hummels chooses the lazy approach. He takes a solid 2-3 seconds to take a touch to control the ball, take a step back, wind up, and kicks the ball just as Thomas Muller bears down on him. Muller easily knocks the ball away, and Bayern are off to the races.
The second error involved Mats Hummels, but was really the fault of Raphael Guerreiro.
As you can see here, Guerreiro has a wide open lane to clear the ball. He basically just has to aim for Zwayer. Alternatively, he could hit it up into the air. Instead, he completely mis-hits the ball with his weak foot and lashes it into Mats Hummels. The ball bounces straight to an unmarked Kingsley Coman, who is able to pick out a shot with ease.
When I called this match infuriating in the headline, it wasn’t because of Zwayer’s penalty call, but because of these mistakes. Those are two errors that should be far below elite veteran defenders like Hummels and Guerreiro. To make not one, but two catastrophic errors at the back is unacceptable in any game, let alone an important game against a top rival that could have massive implications for the title race.
Two errors, two goals. Aside from the open net that Tolisso missed in the final minute after Kobel came up for a corner, these were the only grade-A chances that Bayern generated all night. Bayern’s third goal didn’t come from open play, but from a penalty, that was awarded under circumstances that could best be described as questionable... which brings me to my final point.
The Elephant in the Room: Felix Zwayer
It’s quite a shame that after what was such an exciting and close game, all anybody seems to be talking about is referee Felix Zwayer. He’s become front-page news on every sporting newspaper and magazine in Germany, and has even drawn the ire of neutral voices, including former referee Manuel Gräfe. The harshest words were spoken by Jude Bellingham, who indirectly implied that Zwayer might have fixed the match, by referencing his scandal from the 2000s:
I’m probably going to do a separate article giving my thoughts on Zwayer’s decisions and his wider role within the league, but for now I’ll say that everyone should take a deep breath. There’s no evidence that Zwayer is currently involved in any match fixing scandal. I understand that in the heat of the moment Bellingham was probably pissed off, but he might have talked his way into a fine, or even a suspension. Furthermore, while I disagree with the handball call, I don’t think it was especially egregious, and far from the worst call we’ve seen made against BVB this season.
At the end of the day, BVB didn’t lose because of Felix Zwayer. They lost because they gifted two goals to Bayern Munich. When the game is tied late in the game, you have to expect that something like a random handball from a corner can happen, and unfortunately, it did.
What did you think of yesterday’s game? Do you agree with my take on Felix Zwayer? Let me know your thoughts.