Lewandowski reminds Haaland of the Bundesliga pecking order

ESPN’s lead Bundesliga commentator Derek Rae hopes a thrilling Bayern MunichBorussia Dortmund tussle, which he called for U.S. viewers on ABC and ESPN+ (U.S. fans can stream the replay of the match HERE), will open new eyes to German football. Here’s his instant reaction column.

In the build up to the 104th Bundesliga edition of a fixture that has come to be known as Der Klassiker, many wondered if it might turn out to be another demolition job. Bayern have made light work of Dortmund in recent league meetings at the Allianz Arena and the portents were far from positive for the visitors.

Friday’s news that two of BVB’s most effective players, Raphael Guerreiro and Jadon Sancho, had been ruled out, felt a bit like a hammer blow before a ball was kicked. Could Dortmund cope, fielding infrequent starters of late, like Dan-Axel Zagadou, Nico Schulz and Thorgan Hazard?

With their new look back three, they started brilliantly, showing life, enterprise, verve and a plan. That was to press, win the ball, move the Bayern players around and switch the play quickly.

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When Erling Haaland saw his second minute shot find the net with help from a deflection off Jerome Boateng (his first successful Bundesliga goal from outside the box), you could almost sense the question being asked around the football world: Was this the day for Dortmund to get the better of a wobbly Bayern defence? The truth is Bayern are statistically as weak as they’ve been defensively since the trouble torn 1991-92 campaign when they went through 3 different coaches.

That feeling only intensified with Haaland’s second goal, significantly finding himself at the tail end of a move involving the aforementioned Schulz and Hazard on the left. Bayern had overloaded on the opposite flank, giving left-back Schulz the freedom of the Allianz Arena. Boateng got caught on the wrong side of the lethal Haaland.

The Norway international remarkably had never scored in the opening quarter of an hour of any Bundesliga match. Now he had done it twice in Der Klassiker. Come to think of it, Dortmund had never previously netted twice in the opening 10 minutes against Bayern. What on earth was going on?

While at the microphone with broadcast partner Taylor Twellman, I couldn’t help thinking back to a Bayern game I had commentated on for the Bundesliga world feed in January. Mainz had galloped off into a 2-0 lead only for Bayern to turn it around and then some, recording a 5-2 triumph. Granted, Dortmund are not Mainz, but Bayern are Bayern.

The truth is the flow of the remainder of the game saw Bayern on the front foot with the exception of a couple of isolated moments. I wrote on my notepad around 20 minutes “Dortmund looking compact and seeking quick counters.” Marco Reus glided away from Bayern centre-back Niklas Sule, and shortly after that midfielder Mahmoud Dahoud combined nicely with BVB full-back Thomas Meunier on the right. But Bayern were now blotting out Haaland.

The tide was about to turn considerably. Schulz made the mistake of giving Leroy Sane too much space and, with his slick footwork, set up a goal for Robert Lewandowski. The Poland striker, the record scorer in this fixture, was only warming up.

A key moment arrived just before the break. When Dahoud went in clumsily on Kingsley Coman inside the box, referee Marco Fritz saw no transgression. But we have all learned to say “it will be checked” and as quick as a flash, Fritz was at his TV monitor having a second look. The more we watched, the more we thought, a spot kick was inevitable.

Lewandowski’s penalty routine is very much his own: a couple of steps to the side, then that little moment of delayed action before the strike itself. He was denied recently by Rune Jarstein of Hertha, but this time confidently swept it past Marwin Hitz to level the contest.

Maybe on account of that unlikely failure in Berlin, Bayern boss Hansi Flick chose to look away as his star striker took the penalty, relying on acoustics for confirmation that it had indeed gone in.

It was Lewandowski’s 30th goal of the season, marking the fourth time he has hit that milestone.

In truth it was no more than Bayern deserved to be going to half-time level at 2-2. The first two attempts of the game had been Dortmund goals by Haaland. The next 12 (!) had all been from Bayern.

As at the start of the first half, Dortmund began the second half confidently enough. Again we saw that Schulz-Hazard combination come to the fore with the latter squeezing a shot just wide of the post.

Thereafter, Bayern were the team with plenty to say for themselves, particularly down the left-hand side where Coman, one of their top performers this season, was a constant menace.

It was a matter of whether or not, Dortmund could keep the score even as they dropped ever deeper — too deep as coach Edin Terzic later conceded. Hitz fumbled a Joshua Kimmich shot which bounced just in front of him, but escaped without a concession.

But Dortmund’s prospects dwindled when talisman Haaland, who had earlier picked up a knock, was replaced on the hour mark. By the 77th minute, Terzic had made all five of his substitutions, the last of which saw captain Reus, having only made 32 touches all game, make way for the young Brazilian, Reinier.

Tension levels heightened up with each passing minute but the real drama was yet to arrive. In many ways it had to be provided by a man who just keeps improving.

Leon Goretzka has emerged from the shadows to become one of Bayern’s best. In commentary, when I saw Meunier clear only as far as him, I posed it as question? “Is there a chance for Goretzka maybe?” The question was answered. Goal for Bayern. 3-2.

Dortmund took issue with the goal, feeling there had been a foul in the build up. Having reviewed it over and over again, I didn’t see any wrongdoing by Sane on Emre Can and still don’t. This was no clear and obvious error.

For good measure, Bayern scored again to seal Lewandowski’s hat trick, taking him to 31 goals for the season and within nine of the all-time record 40 for a single campaign set by the legendary Gerd Muller in 1971-72.

The loss was especially bitter for Dortmund, seeing a two-goal lead turn into a defeat in the Bundesliga for the first time in more than 25 years. Their Champions League qualification prospects continue to hang in the balance.

But there can be no denying the better team prevailed.

What a game. Gripping tension until very near the end and I trust through the telecast, we have won ourselves more than a few converts to the Bundesliga cause.