Dortmund's character-building win exposes Bayern's need for a rebuild
Borussia Dortmund's second trip to the Allianz Arena in the space of a month was billed as a rite of passage by coach Thomas Tuchel.
"Familiarity reduces stress levels, your vision widens, you're able to deal better [with the pressure]," the 43-year-old said ahead of his side's thrilling 3-2 DFB Cup semifinal win. "It was important for the players to experience that [the first time]. It's like skiing: once you get down a black run, the probability is higher that you'll do better the second time."
And do better they did. By their own admission, Dortmund rode their luck in Munich of course; on another night, Sven Bender's spectacular goal-line clearance doesn't come off at 2-1 for Bayern -- "My leg became longer than it really was, a third goal would have made it very difficult," said the defensive all-rounder -- and the home side take only half their other clear-cut chances to administer a punishment of similar levels to the 4-1 Bundesliga win three weeks earlier.
But those underdog triumphs, as any footballer will tell you, are the most fun. Dortmund weathered the onslaught to hit back and snatch a win of huge symbolic value.
"It's sensational for the development of the team," Tuchel exclaimed. Sporting director Michael Zorc joked that his side were "so young that they don't drink any beer" after the final whistle but he needn't have worried. Reporters saw crates of beer getting carried into the away team changing room. Tuchel's boys had matured enough in those 90 minutes to deserve a sip.
The BVB coach was at first reluctant to talk about the win in relation to the attack on his team ahead of the Monaco Champions League quarterfinal first leg. But then he revealed that the arrest of the alleged perpetrator, a man who had bet on the BVB stock price tumbling, had helped his side to cope.
"First and foremost, it helped those players who were still thinking about it," Tuchel said. "And such a dramatic event can also act like glue, when you get off lightly. It made us get to know each other in a very valuable way. It created trust."
If appearances don't deceive, Dortmund left Munich much more united and confident, strengthened in their belief that future glories for this emerging side are not necessarily two or three more seasons away but only a few weeks. Captain Marcel Schmelzer warned, however, that the fourth DFB Cup final appearance in a row comes with its own pressures.
"We have to deal with the status of being favourites (against Eintracht Frankfurt) and make sure that we take the cup home to Dortmund this time," said the left-back. Nevertheless, Dortmund's chances to lift a first trophy since the domestic double in 2012 under Jürgen Klopp have objectively never been better.
By contrast, the stress levels at Carlo Ancelotti's Bayern are higher than at any time this season. Losing against Real Madrid in unfortunate circumstances was just about acceptable; getting knocked out of a cup by Dortmund, in a game the home team dominated for large parts, was less so.
Not unlike Dortmund, Bayern are about to embark on a transition of their own, a re-structuring of a side seemingly slightly past their sell-by date. Negative results don't help at all in that respect. They will only add a dose of anxiety and antagonism to the rather huge task ahead. Quite needlessly, too: Bayern created more than enough opportunities to win the game twice over and should never have made it possible for Dortmund to take advantage of their profligacy.
Mats Hummels, a goal scorer against his former team, wondered whether the disappointing end to the season might lead to drastic measures in the transfer market and a more mental resolve, just as it had done in 2012. Former midfielder Mehmet Scholl, too, predicted that Bayern would react by "making crazy moves in the market." The team certainly needs strengthening in key areas but that much was obvious before Wednesday night. Where things become a lot more complicated is when it comes to evaluating the existing players that were meant to take over next year.
Have Kingsley Coman, Joshua Kimmich or Douglas Costa regressed because of a basic lack of game time, or are they lacking the inherent quality to be starting XI regulars? Can they, and players at a similar stage of their development, markedly improve in Ancelotti's hands-off regime?
The last question really is key for Bayern's short-term planning. Unless they suddenly change tack and try to buy megastars at the very top end of the market, they will have to continue to rely on their collective strength and/or tactical cohesion as far as taking on European giants are concerned. Performances during the past few weeks make it doubtful that the Italian can deliver either; there was precious little to fall back on once or two key players were unavailable, whether out of form or a bit worn out.
Most worrying of all has been the lack of proper game management that the encounters with Madrid and Dortmund exposed. A team as experienced and talented as Bayern's, with a seasoned operator on the touchline, should not have fallen apart with 10 men (vs. Madrid in Munich) or kept playing attacking football with chaotic abandon at 2-1 up and 20 minutes to go in the semifinal of the cup. These uncertainties about the coach and the squad will follow the Bayern board all the way into the summer like a bad taste in the mouth.
Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC's German football expert and author of "Bring the Noise: The Jurgen Klopp Story." Follow: @honigstein