Bayern Munich probably did not expect to still be in a title battle in March but, seeing as they were, they comfortably drew, 0-0 against their nearest challengers, Borussia Dortmund, at the Westfalenstadion on Saturday night to keep the gap at the top of the Bundesliga to five points.
A surprise defeat against Mainz in midweek for Bayern had meant that Dortmund, who face Tottenham Hotspur in the Europa League on Thursday, had moved within touching distance of the reigning champions before this game but they were unable to put Manuel Neuer’s goal under sustained pressure for any period of time in Der Klassiker. The Bayern manager, Pep Guardiola, will take heart from a disciplined performance and in particular the form of Arturo Vidal, who was the most dangerous player on the pitch from his midfield position. The Chilean has not had the impact Bayern had hoped for since joining from Juventus last summer but has improved markedly in the past few weeks and was a constant threat against Dortmund.
There were slightly worrying scenes at the end for Guardiola as Thomas Müller felt his hamstring and was moving gingerly and the manager also had a heated discussion with the 21-year-old defender Joshua Kimmich after the final whistle, which included both shouting and hugging.
Dortmund, meanwhile, could not complain about the result and Thomas Tuchel will acknowledge as much. His team will be happy to still be contenders, ready to pounce if Bayern drop more unexpected points.
These two teams do not like each other – and it showed from that start. The pace was breathtaking, the tackles were flying in and the febrile atmosphere contributed to a ferocious start to the game. The first chance fell to the home side when Henrikh Mkhitaryan found Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with a defence-splitting pass that left Kimmich struggling in a one-on-one situation with the Gabonese striker, but Manuel Neuer saved the low shot comfortably.
Bayern looked dangerous on the break, however, and Vidal nearly opened the scoring by latching on to a Douglas Costa cross, but his effort went wide.
At the other end, Eric Durm, was allowed space in the Bayern area but hit the side-netting.
Then, after 25 minutes, two superb chances were spurned in quick succession, one by each team. First Dortmund counter-attacked rapidly with Aubameyang finding Marco Reus but Kimmich made a potentially goal-saving tackle in his own area before Douglas Costa was sent clear but failed to beat Roman Bürki, who came out to block the shot.
Five minutes into the second half, Aubameyang controlled the ball on his head neatly and raced past David Alaba but his shot hit the out-rushing Neuer. Mkhitaryan then hit the rebound wide.
Vidal, who had been given licence to roam by Pep Guardiola, saw a header sail just wide after beating three Dortmund defenders to an inviting Müller cross. A few minutes later Xabi Alonso strolled past a couple of home players before piercing the Dortmund defence with a perfectly weighted pass to Arjen Robben but the Dutchman’s shot, which was going wide anyway, was saved by Bürki.
The Swiss goalkeeper became increasingly influential as Bayern started to turn the screw. On 62 minutes he produced the save of the evening, if not the season, as his strong left hand diverted a Vidal rocket on to the bar from close range. The Chilean could not believe he had been denied a goal and neither could his team-mates. At this stage, midway through the second half, Bayern were practically camped in the Dortmund area, dominating possession and creating the better chances.
Guardiola tried to inject his side with fresh impetus, bringing on Franck Ribéry in place of Costa as Bayern continued to press but there would be no winner. The home side came closest but Adrián Ramos failed to do a glorious Aubameyang cross justice and headed meekly wide.
It ended goalless and Dortmund now have four days to recharge their batteries ahead of another bruising encounter, against Tottenham on Thursday. It is likely to be another fascinating game.
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