Open Bundesliga picks up where it left off

by Jonathan Lines

It was almost as though we hadn’t had a summer break. On Friday night, champions Borussia Dortmund kicked off the new season in familiar style with a thrilling 3-1 victory over Hamburg, delivering the flowing performance that characterised their title-winning season last term. Over the rest of the weekend, some surprise results cropped up, further advertising the German league’s vast unpredictability, with defeats for Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern München, and a 3-0 drubbing of Schalke by VfB Stuttgart.

Manuel Neuer was the only one for whom last season’s campaign did not seamlessly flow into this one. The German player of the year, on his Bayern München debut following a €22m summer transfer, made a huge error which handed Borussia Mönchengladbach, 16th last season, a surprise 1-0 victory at the Allianz Arena. He came rashly for a speculative ball foward, in a rare attack for the visitors, but was beaten to it by Ivor De Camargo for the only goal of the game.

Neuer’s mistake may have been the crucial moment of an uninspiring match, but Bayern’s poor performance across the pitch will have worried new coach Jupp Heynckes. They only got going after Borussia’s goal on the hour, and were never in anywhere near full-flow, although Thomas Müller had a goal questionably disallowed and Mario Gomez hit the post from close range. Neuer’s opposite number, the 19-year-old Marc-Andre ter Stegen, was excellent in goal for the visitors, and may one day feature alongside the German number one in the national squad.

The German press was inevitably highly critical of Bayern’s opening day display. Bild ran with the headline “Dortmund show Bayern how it’s done”, and where Bayern got off to a slow start, BVB were at their fluent best during the curtain raiser on Friday night, as Hamburger SV were on the receiving end of a 3-1 defeat at the Westfalenstadion.

Dortmund shrugged off doubts that they would be able to produce the same level of football as last season without Nuri Sahin and the injured Lucas Barrios. Kevin Grosskreutz scored twice, the first a superb finish, and Shinji Kagawa excelled, but the standout performer was 19-year-old Wunderkind Mario Götze, who scored one and assisted two of the three goals on the night. An admittedly lacklustre Hamburg could not cope with the pace and skill of the Dortmund front-four, and if they keep this level up they will tear through many more defences this season.

Bayer Leverkusen fell to a disappointing 2-0 defeat at Mainz. The Werkself’s shaky defence was exposed again, after their calamitous effort in losing 4-3 to Bundesliga II outfit Dynamo Dresden (from 3-0 up) in the German Cup a week ago. With reliable goalkeeper Rene Adler injured, the two replacement goalkeepers made costly errors in both games. Leverkusen’s attack may be very strong, but new coach Robin Dutt will desperately need to strengthen his defence to challenge for the success this season. Meanwhile, it is an excellent start for Mainz. The surprise victory, the first Bundesliga match in their new stadium, will go a long way to proving they are still a strong side despite the summer departures of Schürrle, Holtby and Fuchs.

Elsewhere, the surprises continued from last season. After very disappointing defeats to lower-league opposition in the German Cup last week, Werder Bremen and VfL Wolfsburg, turned things around with impressive opening day wins. Bremen beat Kaiserslautern 2-0, with Markus Rosenberg scoring twice, a feat even more surprising than the turnaround in performance, while Wolfsburg went one better, raising eyebrows with a 3-0 win at Köln.

Meanwhile, Ralf Rangnick’s Schalke, tipped by many for success this season, slumped to a 3-0 away defeat at Stuttgart. Schalke’s displays oscillated spectacularly last season, and they were at their worst this weekend. Stuttgart’s opener was a soft goal from a set-piece, setting the tone for the rest of the Schalke performance. The poor display from Klass-Jan Hunterlaar will be of particular concern to Rangnick, the second time this season after the Super Cup against Dortmund, that the Dutch striker has failed to make an impact on the match.

In the other matches, Augsburg’s first ever Bundesliga match ended with a resilient 2-2 draw against Freiburg, while fellow promoted club Hertha Berlin suffered a 1-0 home defeat to Nürnberg. And it was a strong start for last season’s biggest surprise-package Hannover, beating Hoffenheim 2-1.

In Bundesliga transfer news, Freiburg marksman Papiss Cissé, who netted 22 goals last term and scored at the weekend, is reported to be in talks with Wolfsburg over a transfer, with the €15 million price tag a potential stumbling block in the deal. Two Premiership clubs are reportedly interested in the player, with Tottenham and Fulham possibly interested. Per Mertesacker could also be close to a move away from Werder Bremen, telling the press post-match this weekend that he might be on the move. “England excites me”, the defender told Bild.

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