Munich - "The most important thing was that we picked up the three points," was the oft-repeated mantra among the FC Bayern München players after their 2-1 win over Borussia Dortmund on Saturday evening. Yet as valuable as the victory was in terms of the title race, there was no ignoring the overriding sense that that statement was not quite true.
Robben: 'We played really good football'
For this was no ordinary match. Broadcast live to 208 nations across the globe, the international appeal of the fixture was evident in the mixed zone after the final whistle, where close to 60 journalists from around the world jockeyed for position.
In the end it was left to Arjen Robben, scorer of Bayern's winning goal and a man who so often makes the difference for the German record champions, to shed light on the significance of the result. "In the Bundesliga every team fights hard for the points," said the 30-year-old. "We played really good football at times and you shouldn't always belittle your achievements. It was an important game for the future. It's the kind of match you can learn from."
Indeed, the encounter will have provided Pep Guardiola with plenty of material to analyse. For the first time this season his side conceded the opening goal, and being behind at the break was also an unfamiliar novelty. Furthermore, Marco Reus' header was the first goal Bayern conceded from open play this term, while Shinji Kagawa's man-marking of schemer Xabi Alonso in the first half in particular prevented the hosts from getting into their stride. The fact that they only won 47 per cent of their tackles was also an unusual statistic for the normally dominant Bavarians.
Strength in adversity
"We lacked a little bit of intensity in the first half," Robben said. "You can't afford to let that happen against Dortmund because then you get into difficulties. It's good that we managed to fight back today." Former BVB favourite Mario Götze agreed: “It was definitely a hard game today. It was an intense, interesting match which was hard-fought and either side could have won.” Yet it was precisely the fact that Bayern didn't have things all their own way that underlined their strength.
The defending Bundesliga champions refused to panic, became more aggressive in their challenges and continued to exert pressure from the wings going forward as the Klassiker progressed, confident in their ability to turn the game around. Come the final whistle Bayern had 25 shots on goal compared to Dortmund's ten and BVB keeper Roman Weidenfeller made an astonishing 12 saves - more than any other custodian has made in a single match in the German top flight this term.
The introduction of Franck Ribery as a 70th-minute substitute proved to be the catalyst for the win, with the Frenchman receiving instructions from Guardiola prior to entering to be as direct as possible down the left flank in the closing stages. It was one such surge that drew the foul from Neven Subotic that led to Robben’s match-winning penalty, which he said he “was confident I'd score.”
And with memories of the 7-1 demolition of AS Roma - Bayern’s next opponents in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday - still fresh, the battling qualities on display on Saturday offer a stark juxtaposition to that match in Italy, highlighting that Guardiola’s charges have the fight to go with the flair. Nevertheless, it was clear which of the two Robben is anticipating in midweek: “I'm expecting a nice game against Roma now,” he said with a chuckle and a wink as he left.
Jonathan Stockitt reporting from Munich