Dortmund heap pressure on Bayern to set up enthralling Der Klassiker

On Saturday, Borussia Dortmund dispatched Wolfsburg to heap pressure on Bayern Munich and keep Europe’s most exciting title race alive. Dortmund controlled the game throughout, playing the patient football that has become their trademark under Lucien Favre. Raphael Guerreiro scored the first, capitalising on a rare miss from Erling Haaland to continue his hot run of form since the season restart. After a brighter second-half showing from Wolfsburg, Dortmund then put the game beyond reach. A lightning break started by Jadon Sancho saw him take the ball half the length of the pitch, before setting up Achraf Hakimi to hammer home from a tight angle. Felix Klaus’s sending off 4 minutes later was the final nail in the coffin for a below-par Wolfsburg side. 

Bayern were able to respond in Saturday’s later kick-off, playing Eintracht Frankfurt at the Allianz Arena. It was an easy win for Bayern as they came out 5-2 winners against a Frankfurt side who were a far cry from their exhilarating best of recent seasons. Apart from a three minute period in which Frankfurt scored twice to bring the game within touching distance, Bayern were ruthless as Alphonso Davies starred in a convincing display. Bayern’s victory reinstated their 4 point lead at the top of the table, setting up one of the most enthralling der Klassikers in recent years in the process. All eyes are on Dortmund as they attempt to close the gap on Tuesday’s in a game billed as a potential title decider. 

Elsewhere in the league, RB Leipzig reaffirmed their European credentials in a 5-0 drubbing over a Mainz side edging closer to the relegation zone. Timo Werner was one hand to show why he’s so highly prized across Europe as he scored a hat-trick, bringing his total for the season up to 24. The win keeps Leipzig in third, just 3 points behind Dortmund. Bayer Leverkusen were able to move into the Champions League places just a point behind Leipzig via a resounding away victory against previously in form Borussia Mönchengladbach. 2 goals from Kai Haverts and 1 from Sven Bender were enough for Die Werkself to leapfrog their European rivals. A classy finish from Marcus Thuram, however, means it’s 2 from 2 for him since the season restart, even if it wasn’t enough to rescue a result for his team.

At the other end of the table, it was a Berlin derby like no other in Friday’s kick-off. While Union Berlin beat their cross-city rivals, Hertha, in the first top-flight meeting of the sides in November’s reverse fixture, the same could not be said for Friday. A tepid first half in the cavernous Olympiastadion gave way to a flurry of goals in the second period that saw Hertha walk out 4-0 winners. Towards the foot of the table, Werder Bremen kept alive the hopes of extending their 39-year stay in the Bundesliga by beating Freiburg 1-0.

English Leagues edging closer to return 

In the last week, fresh hope was given to the return to the Premier League and Championship as players in the top two leagues returned to training. Premier League players were the first to return to work last week in socially distanced training sessions, while Championship players got back to the pitch on Monday as lockdown restrictions are eased. This all plays out against the backdrop of a crucial vote taking place on Wednesday 27th May as Premier League teams will decide whether to press on with the government’s proposals for a resumption of contact training. A fresh wave of positive cases could derail these plans, however, as Bournemouth’s Aaron Ramsey was the latest player to test positive for COVID-19. The total number of cases in the Premier League now stands at eight. 

Those further down the English footballing pyramid have a different set of priorities, however. The focus of the majority of those in League One is on maintaining their financial security as it remains unclear whether the season will be allowed to continue. Last week, Nigel Clough resigned as Burton Albion boss in order to protect other jobs at the club. With League Two sides deciding unanimously to end the season and only hold the play-offs, the future of League One remains in a precarious position. If the steady income of paying fans does not return soon, teams may not be able to shoulder the cost of holding the remainder of the season. 

In a similar turn of events, the Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship seasons were both ended with immediate effect over the weekend. It was long assumed that the seasons would have to end but the decision was eventually made “in the best interest of the women’s game” an FA statement concluded. It means all levels of the women’s game in England have now been cancelled. The WSL title and promotion and relegation are still to be decided, however, meaning that a further statement on the full conclusion of the league is set to be announced. 

15 Years Since the Miracle of Istanbul 

Without the madness and excitement of European football’s usual conclusion to keep us entertained, we’ve been reminiscing about some of the classics and one did kind of stand out. Monday marked the 15 year anniversary of arguably the greatest Champions League final ever as Liverpool came from 3-0 down to beat an AC Milan side packed with superstars to walk out with Europe’s top prize. Gerrard led the comeback while Dudek’s heroics in goal ultimately clinched the win as Kaka, Pirlo and co. were forced to rue missed opportunities. Milan would eventually get their revenge 2 years later when they met Liverpool in the final, but that night in Istanbul will live forever as a truly legendary game. 

Monday was also a landmark day for an equally landmark European final. 53 years ago Celtic’s Lisbon Lions became the first British side to win the European Cup, as it was known then, in a thrilling 2-1 win over Inter Milan. It marked a turning point in football as the defensive styles of old gave way to a more entertaining attack-minded style of play. While Celtic have yet to repeat the feat, it paved the way for British success in Europe in the decades to follow. With Liverpool and Chelsea taking both of Europe’s top titles last season, can we expect another era of British domination when football returns?