Bayern Munich's double dream dies as they look brittle in loss to Dortmund
Bayern Munich's treble hopes have disappeared in eight days, losing frustratingly to Real Madrid in the Champions League 4-2 after extra time, followed by Wednesday's astonishing 3-2 home defeat to their biggest domestic rivals Borussia Dortmund in the DFB Pokal semifinal.
Unlike the defeat in Madrid, Bayern do not have anyone to blame but themselves, spurning opportunities galore against Dortmund. The normally-clinical Robert Lewandowski, twice clean through on goal with only goalkeeper Roman Burki to beat, missed glorious chances either side of half-time to put the game to bed.
Lewandowski normally converts such chances in his sleep, especially against his former employer. Whether he was still feeling the effects of his shoulder injury we don't know, but he was a shadow of his former self with even his close control letting him down on occasion.
In fact, he's been below his usual standards since sustaining his shoulder problem against Dortmund in the Bundesliga game earlier this month. However, almost negligibly, Bayern don't have a backup striker, so he simply has to play -- even when not fully fit.
Arjen Robben, Bayern's second top scorer also failed to convert four good chances -- thwarted by a combination of Burki, bad luck and poor finishing. When it did look like the Netherlands skipper had finally found a way through, Sven Bender's amazing goal-line clearance with his toe denied him.
Carlo Ancelotti may have wondered how his side lost the tie and he will rue their missed chances, but his decision to substitute defender Mats Hummels for Jerome Boateng with 30 minutes remaining also came back to bite him.
Hummels, with eight years of sterling service behind him at BVB, had been imperious up till the hour mark against his former club, even showing Lewandowski how it's done with a superb centre forward's finish to fire Bayern ahead four minutes before the interval. There was no simply way past Hummels on the night, who produced a series of perfectly timed tackles; his last-ditch intervention to deny Ousmane Dembele an equaliser on 55 minutes was a thing of beauty.
Ancelotti said in his postmatch news conference that he had removed Hummels from the fray because his "intensity" was lacking. This is very different to saying Hummels was injured. With Bayern looking good at 2-1, there was no pending threat from the visitors at that stage but, buoyed by seeing their ex-skipper on the sidelines, BVB turned the game around, punishing Bayern for their terrible wastefulness in front of goal.
While back-up keeper Sven Ulreich couldn't be blamed for any of the goals, the ex-Stuttgart man is no Manuel Neuer. Bayern's backline is simply less confident without their injured No. 1. Javi Martinez's horrible back pass to gift Marco Reus an opener was evidence of this malaise; though Bayern's record signing (how much longer can we say that for?) rectified his mistake by powering home a bullet header, later seeing a similar effort rattle the crossbar.
Bayern had brushed BVB aside 5-1 and 4-1 in their previous two league meetings at the Allianz Arena and it seemed a matter of time before dominant Bayern scored again, but being let down by their reliable sharpshooters eventually saw Dortmund battle sensationally against the odds to their fourth successive DFB Pokal final in Berlin.
Captain Philipp Lahm immediately fronted up for the TV cameras, ruefully telling ARD: "Today is another bitter setback to go with last week's disappointment."
And after being on the receiving end of two knockout blows, Lahm (and fellow retiree Xabi Alonso) both now have just four Bundesliga games to look forward to before ending their prestigious careers in the summer.
"Despite everything, I'll try and enjoy my remaining three-and-a-half weeks," Lahm said.
Some small consolation perhaps for Lahm is that a record equalling eighth Bundesliga title remains a formality. Eight points clear with four games remaining, Bayern can seal their fifth straight Bundesliga this weekend with a win at relegation-strugglers Wolfsburg, provided nearest challengers RB Leipzig fail to beat lowly Ingolstadt.
As for Ancelotti, a proven Champions League winner brought in to deliver success at the European top table, he must expect some flak. Bayern suffered their earliest UCL exit since 2011, even earlier than under Pep Guardiola, who was harshly considered a failure by many following three successive semifinal losses.
April was supposed to be "Ancelotti time" as treble-seeking Bayern purred through the gears. However, winning just one piece of domestic silverware isn't anywhere enough to satisfy the masses as Bayern once again look brittle towards the business end of the season.
Mark Lovell covers Bayern Munich for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @LovellLowdown.