The 50th Bundesliga season could hardly have gone better for the German league, with Dortmund and Bayern advancing to the Champions League final. In front of a capacity crowd at Wembley Stadium, the two sides will have a chance on May 25 to show the football world just how great the Bundesliga has become.
On Saturday, fans were treated to a rehearsal of the final as Dortmund played host to Bayern . Given that the domestic league was decided several weeks ago and that both sides had undergone grueling midweek fixtures in the Champions League, both used B-teams in Saturday's clash.
What ensued was a dreadful spectacle that had very few redeeming aspects.
Overall, the quality of play was rather poor. Julian Schieber had a nightmare for BVB, who went ahead early through a Kevin Grosskreutz volley. The hosts sorely lacked the quickness and creativity of Marco Reus and Mario Gotze, and they lost a key figure in Ilkay Gundogan in the opening minutes as the holding midfielder was forced off due to a knock.
Mario Gomez drew Bayern equal with a header midway through the first half, but the visitors had little presence in the center of the park and were well off their best. Neither side pressed to any appreciable degree, and the game ended 1-1. But it wasn't just the play that disappointed.
Things went from bad to ugly shortly after the hour mark, when Rafinha collected his second yellow in as many minutes. The Brazil native threw an elbow at Jakub Blaszczykowski as the two raced for the ball, and "Kuba" collapsed in a heap. Rafinha was incensed by the whole event, and he stuck an accusatory finger into the Poland international's cheek before leaving the pitch. BVB coach Jurgen Klopp showed him to the tunnel, prompting backlash from Bayern sporting director Matthias Sammer.
The clash between Klopp and Sammer was perhaps the most noteworthy narrative in a dismal game. It had an instantaneously polarizing effect on fans, who took to social media to blast anyone and anything associated with the opposing team with jingoistic undertones more typical of the Catalonia-vs-Spain conflict that comes with La Liga's Clasico. "THE CL FINAL WILL BE A WAR!" wrote one Bayern fan on Facebook.
Sadly, that fan may be right. There were no postgame handshakes between Klopp and Sammer, and tensions between the players sizzled, especially after Rafinha's red card. After Thomas Müller went down appealing for a penalty, he and Felipe Santana had a row. And when Robert Lewandowski did the same, he and Jerome Boateng locked heads.
The poor play on the pitch was more or less expected and can easily be remedied. The two sides were B-teams, with many stars not even included in the matchday squads. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Arjen Robben, for example, were with club president Uli Hoeness in the German capital watching the Bayern basketball team in a playoff match against Alba Berlin.
The lack of sportsmanlike conduct we saw on Saturday is a recent development that will not so easily be corrected. In recent years, clashes between the Bundesliga's strongest clubs have been spirited but classy. Rarely has there ever been a spat between players or managers, much less several in the same game.
However, bad blood between Dortmund and Bayern has been more prevalent since Gotze's confirmed move to Munich. Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke recently admitted that relations between the two clubs were not exactly at their best, and that showed in the actions of both players and managers in Saturday's match—and in the response of supporters.
Dortmund versus Bayern is a dream finale for German football and could not have come at a better time than on the 50th anniversary of the Bundesliga's founding. It would be a shame if the final were marred by events like those of Saturday.