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Misfiring Bayern lets Dortmund back in Bundesliga title race

March 17, 2022 GMT
Bayern's Robert Lewandowski gestures during a German Bundesliga soccer match between TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and Bayern Munich in Sinsheim, Germany, Saturday, March 12, 2022. Lewandowski scored once and the match ended in a 1-1 draw. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
Bayern's Robert Lewandowski gestures during a German Bundesliga soccer match between TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and Bayern Munich in Sinsheim, Germany, Saturday, March 12, 2022. Lewandowski scored once and the match ended in a 1-1 draw. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
Bayern's Robert Lewandowski gestures during a German Bundesliga soccer match between TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and Bayern Munich in Sinsheim, Germany, Saturday, March 12, 2022. Lewandowski scored once and the match ended in a 1-1 draw. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
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Bayern's Robert Lewandowski gestures during a German Bundesliga soccer match between TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and Bayern Munich in Sinsheim, Germany, Saturday, March 12, 2022. Lewandowski scored once and the match ended in a 1-1 draw. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
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Bayern's Robert Lewandowski gestures during a German Bundesliga soccer match between TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and Bayern Munich in Sinsheim, Germany, Saturday, March 12, 2022. Lewandowski scored once and the match ended in a 1-1 draw. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

BERLIN (AP) — Bayern Munich’s uncharacteristic vulnerability has allowed some excitement to creep back into the Bundesliga title race with eight games to go.

The Bavarian club remains the favorite for what would be a record-extending 10th consecutive German championship. But it has dropped points in three of its last five league games, giving Borussia Dortmund the opportunity to cut its lead to only four points.

The two rivals meet for “der Klassiker” in Munich late next month.

Bayern has the best defense in the league with only 28 goals conceded in 26 games. But it’s a misleading statistic and the importance of Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who is only recently back from an operation on his knee, cannot be overstated.

Bayern lost at Bochum 4-2, drew 1-1 at Salzburg in the Champions League, and drew 1-1 with Bayer Leverkusen while Neuer was out. Neuer was busier than he’d usually be as Bayern drew 1-1 at Hoffenheim on his Bundesliga comeback last Saturday. The home team had eight good chances.

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Meanwhile, Bayern was unable to capitalize on even more good opportunities. Robert Lewandowski’s league-leading 29th goal of the season was the only chance the visitors could take.

“When I compare the game to the performances of the last weeks, it’s a step in the right direction, even if it’s somehow just a point,” said Julian Nagelsmann, who failed to win in consecutive league games for the first time as Bayern coach.

Bayern’s defense will be without Niklas Süle for its upcoming games after the club said Thursday he tore a muscle fiber at the back of his right thigh in training the day before.

Dortmund has only dropped points once in its last five league games, though it hasn’t always looked convincing. The team dug deep to beat Mainz 1-0 on Wednesday and Arminia Bielefeld by the same score over the weekend.

“Everyone’s talking about the coronavirus infections at Bielefeld and Mainz. We’ve had a midweek game in a very difficult situation. We’re missing eight very important players,” Dortmund coach Marco Rose said. “I think it’s extraordinary that we kept a clean sheet for the second game in a row. The lads gave it their all and that was really good.”

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American forward Gio Reyna impressed in two substitute appearances since returning from injury, setting up Axel Witsel for the winner in Mainz. Norway forward Erling Haaland is also back and his physical presence will help in the team’s upcoming games against Cologne, Leipzig, Stuttgart and Wolfsburg. If the 21-year-old Haaland stays fit, he could make a decisive difference in the match against Bayern.

Dortmund’s last three games are against Bochum, then relegation candidates Greuther Fürth and Hertha Berlin.

Bayern next plays Union Berlin, Freiburg, Augsburg and Bielefeld before hosting Dortmund. The defending champion’s last three games are against Mainz, Stuttgart and Wolfsburg.

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Ciarán Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP