Last weekend saw the return of the Bundesliga, and it provided us with more questions than answers. Following another summer of modest German transfer activity amongst a global market that has officially gone bonkers, some new signings definitely shone, and the prices that the Bundesliga clubs acquired them for makes them already look like decent acquisitions.
There are questions that still remain, however. Are FC Bayern convincing enough to sweep all competition aside? Are RB Leipzig the real deal after all? Is the Bundesliga going to be as exciting as last season, or is defensive astuteness going to become the latest fashion? All these questions will be answered in due course, but it is safe to say that the opening weekend in the German top tier was strange. Goals were not particularly free-flowing, and the teams that have points to prove after last season failed to convince us of their pedigree ahead of a wide-open race for the Champions League places this coming season.
Bayern begin their title defence in familiar style
Bayern Munich commenced their Bundesliga title defence in typical fashion with a 3-1 home victory over Bayer Leverkusen. A dominant first half display where Carlo Ancelotti’s side capitalized from set pieces saw them take a 2-0 lead into the break. Bayern’s goals arrived at the perfect times, as they were already two up after 18 minutes through headers from debutants Niklas Süle and Corentin Tolisso.
Leverkusen’s defending was questionable from both dead ball situations, and Bayern’s new signings pounced well to leave positive early impressions for the Allianz Arena faithful.
Just after the interval, we got a glimpse of the first VAR system decision in the Bundesliga, as Robert Lewandowski appeared to be pulled back by Charles Aranguiz as he entered the penalty box. The referee watched the footage of the incident back, and deemed Aranguiz obstructive to Lewandowski’s run, awarding the Bavarians a penalty, and a chance to finish the game off. The Polish marksman cooly sent Bernd Leno the wrong way, leaving Bayern in cruise control as they went 3-0 up.
Leverkusen did not give up hope of a late comeback, forcing a string of decent saves from Manuel Neuer stand-in Sven Ulreich. Despite a stunning right-footed drive from Admir Mehmedi in the 65th minute, Bayern survived the late Leverkusen onslaught to register an expected opening-day win.
This being said, the fact that kicker magazine included Bayern’s backup keeper Ulreich in their team of the week proves how his impressive performance was vital in Bayern weathering the Leverkusen storm during the second half. Ulreich certainly helped Ancelotti ensure a routine three points for the reigning champions after the club had experienced a set of turbulent pre-season results.
What we also learned from this match is that Bayer Leverkusen may struggle after many significant departures this summer. Javier Hernández, Hakan Çalhanoğlu, and Ömer Toprak are the biggest losses to the club and vitally damage the spine of the starting side. This has to be remedied soon if they are to improve from a hugely disappointing 12th placed finish last season.
Apparent squad unrest not a problem for clinical Dortmund
Borussia Dortmund swept aside a new look VFL Wolfsburg side on Saturday afternoon with a convincing 3-0 win at the Volkswagen Arena. Despite the absences of forwards Marco Reus, Ousmane Dembele, and André Schürrle, Dortmund delivered a highly impressive performance and even picked up a rare clean sheet.
As expected, the manner in which Dortmund went about their work was easy on the eye, with some special goals from Christian Pulisic and Marc Bartra midway through the first half. Pulisic linked up nicely with the rejuvenated Mario Götze to rifle a right-footed effort across goal past Koen Casteels. Bartra’s goal was delightful, finding himself on the left flank, bending a 25-yard effort into the top right corner of the goal. He poignantly dedicated his celebration to the Barcelona terror attack that took place last Thursday, a former Barcelona player himself and victim of an attack on the Dortmund team bus last season.
Wolfsburg were without the defensive solidity of new signing John Brooks from Hertha Berlin, as he is out for an expected three months after tearing thigh tendons days before the match. Up front, the second half saw a couple of half chances open up for the Wolves through the experienced Mario Gomez, yet the deadly attacking instincts of Dortmund forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang killed the game off with Dortmund’s third, latching onto Pulisic’s sumptuous cross from the right-wing.
Under new manager Peter Bosz, the BVB style of play remains similar to the work of former managers Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel. They can certainly be positive regarding their chances of a title challenge this season, as they will be welcoming back Reus and Schürrle before Christmas, who will have a hand in pushing Dortmund closer to the top of the table. The future of Dembele may be unclear, with the young winger being linked with a sensational move to Barça. This speculation prompted him to refuse to train, with a suspension and fine from the German club following shortly after. However, it seems that Bosz has a team on his hands that is ready to realize its potential, and they can definitely mount a title push this season to end Bayern’s five-year dominance.
For Wolfsburg, the early signs are particularly negative, due to the summer sales of Ricardo Rodriguez, Luiz Gustavo, and former captain and goalkeeper Diego Benaglio. They should improve on their disastrous season last time out when they finished 16th, yet the heights of Champions League football (which they were playing 18 months ago) seems far away even after just one game.
Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim narrowly overcome a stubborn Werder Bremen
Julian Nagelsmann’s TSG Hoffenheim side picked up from where they left off last season with a vital three points at home to Werder Bremen. With Serge Gnabry on the bench, a rotation side did well to grind out a late win. The depth of Hoffenheim’s squad shone through in typical fashion, with Andrej Kramarić’s advantageous winner in the 84th minute. It demonstrated the Croat’s ability to come off the bench and deliver for his team, playing in an extremely functional Bundesliga outfit.
Mark Uth and Kerem Demirbay linked up play extremely well in the first half, creating a handful of good chances for Hoffenheim. However, Bremen had a golden opportunity to take the lead, with Florian Kainz scuffing wide a squared ball past the left post, with the goal gaping. His teammates and coaching staff could not believe his error, yet Bremen continued to give Hoffenheim a physical and competitive game.
Into the second half, Demirbay’s deflected effort just after the hour from 25 yards looped over Jiri Pavlenka and onto the bar. This was a sign of things to come for the Czech keeper, as Hoffenheim continued to press for a vital winner. Super-sub Kramaric was the man to finally break the deadlock. Almost a carbon copy of the Demirbay chance that struck the bar 20 minutes earlier, the striker took a punt from 20 yards out, but this time the deflection was much heavier, leaving Pavlenka helpless in the Bremen goal.
Julian Nagelsmann said after the game “Many teams sit deep. If we always defend in a disciplined way, I don’t mind patience games”. Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim love playing an eccentric style of football with an odd formation, yet they always promise their crowd entertainment, even if it takes 84 minutes to break a team down.
This being said, Bremen can take some positives from the game. They should have taken the lead in the first half through Kainz, and barring a deflected goal, they would have earned a point away at a side ever-improving under Nagelsmann’s guidance. They should have another prosperous season, building on their highly impressive 8th placed finish in the 16/17 season.
The rest of the weekend’s action: Schalke stop RB Leipzig in their tracks, and Hertha find a new hero
Schalke 04 started the new season with a brilliant performance at home to last season’s Bundesliga runners-up RB Leipzig in a mightily impressive 2-0 victory at the Veltins Arena. Despite dominating possession throughout the match, Leipzig could not convert any of their chances, and just before half-time, Schalke’s Felix Zwayer was brought down in the box, with new signing Nahil Bentaleb slotting home a rolled effort from the penalty spot.
Schalke did well to keep out Leipzig’s rising stars Timo Werner and Naby Keita, and added to their lead in the 73th minute when Yehven Konoplyanka was played into acres of space on the left wing by Amine Harit, giving him plenty of time to give Leipzig’s keeper Gulacsi the eyes and place a side-footed effort into the bottom right of the goal.
At the Olympiastadion, Hertha Berlin struck twice in early in the second half through new signing Mathew Leckie to take a 2-0 win over newly promoted Stuttgart. In a tight game, the Australian proved to be the difference, and gave Hertha hope of another season of consolidation in the top flight, as they look to qualify for Europe again by May.
There were comedic scenes at the Volksparkstadion as Hamburger SV overcame Augsburg 1-0. Nicolai Müller gave the home side the lead after eight minutes but proceeded to embark on a wild celebration in which he landed awkwardly on his right leg, resulting in him rupturing his knee ligaments, a seven-month injury. Hamburg will be happy with the win, but in the long-term, they will be reeling from the stupidity of Müller, who would have been integral to their survival in the Bundesliga.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Hannover 96 started their new Bundesliga campaign with a 1-0 away triumph at Mainz, Martin Harnik striking mid-way through the second half.
In Sunday’s action, Freiburg hosted the only draw of the weekend, in a drab 0-0 affair with Eintracht Frankfurt. Borussia Mönchengladbach beat FC Köln 1-0 at home in the last of the weekend’s games, with Nico Elvedi striking early in the second half.
The Foals will be hopeful of improving on an average season last term and providing Lars Stindl and Thorgan Hazard stay fit, they should be able to reach the Champions League places again, with no European football at all this season.
Overall, it was a somewhat routine opening Bundesliga weekend, in which some defences looked particularly strong. Bayer Leverkusen were the only team to score and come away from a match without any points to show, as half of the division’s teams recorded clean sheets, in a strange Matchday One. However, as the season begins to open up and the stakes begin to rise, more exciting action will come, and the Bundesliga will inevitably return to its usual state of madness once again.