Gladbach are short on Leverkusen luck
There is something wonderfully chaotic about the start of any Bundesliga campaign. With no form book to go on and adding limited preparation time for international players, exceptional luck is required to accurately predict anything.
Take Bayer Leverkusen‘s eye-catching 4-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach last Saturday. In normal times, this is a close fixture matching two teams with similar ambitions in the upper reaches of the table. But a combination of Leverkusen’s sheer high-tempo brilliance and Gladbach’s bad luck — injury wise as much as anything else — saw it turn into a Bayer runaway.
Under new Swiss coach Gerardo Seoane, Leverkusen laid down an impressive marker in front of a crowd of 15,000. Seoane, aided by able sporting director Simon Rolfes and his excellent international scouting network — gave the home fans a taste of what’s likely to come this season from the Werkself. The emphasis will be on young, hungry players with a strong mentality.
Leon Bailey and the Bender twins have departed the BayArena, but others stepped forward at the weekend, especially the flying Moussa Diaby on the right, who gave three different Gladbach left-backs a torrid time. There were doubts last season about Diaby’s work without the ball, but the former Paris Saint-Germain man is off to a formidable start under Seoane. It would be no exaggeration to call him the Bundesliga player of the first two rounds.
The most striking thing about Leverkusen was their use of the flanks: Diaby and the diminutive Jeremie Frimpong on one side and Mitchel Bakker together with Brazilian Olympic gold medalist Paulinho on the other. Bakker, like Diaby, previously with PSG, excelled at left-back and later admitted to having a new feeling playing in the Bundesliga with its back-and-forth nature compared to the playing style in France.
Bakker, Diaby and Leverkusen generally are going to provide plenty of fun, while Gladbach — who acquitted themselves well in the season opening 1-1 draw with Bayern Munich — now have an early-season personnel nightmare. Stefan Lainer (broken ankle) and Marcus Thuram (torn MCL) will be out for the medium term. Matthias Ginter, their defensive rock and provider of impetus with his build-up play, has tested positive for COVID-19. Bayer coach Adi Hutter doesn’t have such troubles ahead of Saturday’s trip to face FC Augsburg (9:20 a.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+).
Bayern will only get better under Nagelsmann
Perhaps ominously for the rest, Bayern Munich already have four points from the first two games of the Julian Nagelsmann era without having put in a complete performance. In the Gladbach match, they had difficulties early and late on, arresting their hosts’ aggressive and effective pressing.
Last Sunday against FC Cologne at the Allianz Arena, after an uneventful and goalless first half, Nagelsmann abandoned his preferred back three and substituted the struggling Leroy Sane as well as Tanguy Nianzou. The introduction of Jamal Musiala and a switch to the old 4-2-3-1 setup helped produce a much more satisfying second half and a spectacular 3-2 win. The worry for all the other clubs is that the Nageslmann XI will only get better in time as the players master his tactical preferences.
Predictable Dortmund need help on both ends
Borussia Dortmund, like all the top clubs with a new man at the helm, remain something of an enigma. Marco Rose rightly marvelled at his side’s initial high-energy 5-2 win over Eintracht Frankfurt, stressing the team ethic rather than just Erling Haaland‘s admittedly colossal contribution of two goals and three assists.
Yet the DFL-SuperCup loss at the hands of Bayern emphasised that Dortmund still have work to do if they’re to catch the Bavarian team this term. Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at SC Freiburg was disappointing from a BVB perspective in that time and again they shunned the available wide options. It was all too central and too predictable against an intensive team designed to counteract BVB’s attacking strengths and punch hard when the chances arrived.
It helps of course when you have a free-kick maestro like Vincenzo Grifo in your ranks but Dortmund, again without Mats Hummels from the start, must tighten up a defence that has conceded seven goals in three competitive matches.
Marsch, Szoboszlai impress in Leipzig
We also need to talk about RB Leipzig. Frankly, I was wowed by Jesse Marsch’s home debut, commentating for the Bundesliga world feed. Dominik Szoboszlai announced himself to a wider public with a pair of outrageous goals — one from either wing — against an underperforming VfB Stuttgart. The first was a pure arrow from the left, and I’m still in awe at the low, piercing trajectory of his second goal direct from a free kick.
Having been out for seven months with an abductor injury since joining Leipzig, the Hungary international made it clear he’s in the mood to make up for lost time. But Leipzig, in their 4-0 win, embodied Marsch’s belief in Vollgasfussball (full-throttle football) and it was immensely entertaining to watch. Alas for Marsch, the opening statement had been less coherent in the form of a 1-0 defeat in Mainz, with everything just a bit too slow and imprecise.
Leipzig must tread carefully in the late game on Sunday when they travel to VfL Wolfsburg (11:20 a.m. ET, stream live on ESPN+), now coached by Mark van Bommel, and the only team with a 100% record so far.
The final word this week goes to VfL Bochum, who celebrated 11 years without a Bundesliga match on the glorious Castroper-Strasse by beating Mainz 2-0. Gerrit Holtmann etched his name in the club’s already-considerable folklore with a simply awe-inspiring mazy run (leaving five opponents in his wake) and finish. An early candidate for goal of the season.
For the rest of his Bochum career, Holtmann, although from Bremen in the north, will be nicknamed “the Ruhrpott Messi” and might never have to pay for Currywurst, a particular Bochum favourite, ever again.