Everybody loves a shock result on the opening day of the season. What was so unusual as the Bundesliga got back to business was that Borussia Dortmund’s comprehensive victory at Wolfsburg on Saturday afternoon – last term’s third-placed finishers winning at the team that ended third-bottom, having to win the dreaded relegation-promotion play-off to save themselves – felt as if it was one of them.
Given that this summer was supposed to tidy up some loose ends at Westfalen, it’s been far from a smooth ride for Dortmund and their fans over the last two-and-a-bit months. After the expected but clumsily handled exit of Thomas Tuchel, Nice’s miracle worker, Lucien Favre (who previously performed similar feats at Hertha Berlin and Borussia Mönchengladbach), was expected to step in. There was one small problem. The Côte d’Azur club’s president, Jean-Pierre Rivère, wouldn’t play ball, and having had months to plan for the Tuchel succession, Dortmund’s CEO, Hans-Joachim Watzke, and sporting director, Michael Zorc, were left with an unsightly gap to fill, and quickly.
To their credit, they did so. The arrival of Peter Bosz from Ajax was, though, slightly out of left field. On the surface, his work developing talented youngsters in Amsterdam and his credo of a highly energetic attacking game seemed like Dortmund all over. He was, in personality and approach, a long way from Favre, though. It didn’t smack of having a plan.
The coming months will tell us about Bosz’s suitability for the job but both fans and detractors of the appointment alike must have sympathy given the problems that the Dutchman has had hanging over his preparations for the campaign. There was the lengthy injury list, including Julian Weigl, Raphaël Guerreiro and Marco Reus, augmented with the club captain, Marcel Schmelzer, and André Schürrle in pre-season. Then, there were the real difficulties.
The top scorer, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, was candid with the club at the end of last season. Turning 28, he wanted to try out something else. Dortmund could deal with that. He had provided excellent service since arriving from Saint-Étienne in 2013 and after a 40-goal season, they would never be able to sell him for more. Yet a move didn’t materialise – partly because of the emergence of Kylian Mbappé all but finishing his dream of going to Real Madrid, and perhaps partly because while the goals flowed last season, his influence on games as a whole began to wane.
The leader of the attack was now Ousmane Dembélé, the teenager who Aubameyang had, as a fellow French speaker, taken under his wing when he arrived in summer 2016. Blessed with pace, vision, dribbling ability and genuinely two-footed, Dembélé increasingly pulled the strings as the season went on – and showed up in the big moments, such as when his sensational strike won the DfB-Pokal semi-final at Bayern Munich in April, paving the way to winning the trophy in Berlin in Tuchel’s final game.
So if the Neymar sale rocked Barcelona’s pre-season, it didn’t do much for Dortmund’s either. When breaking through at Rennes, Barça tracked Dembélé extensively, with their sporting director, Robert Fernández, watching him in person on a number of occasions. Barça made an offer, but Dortmund made the more convincing argument for development and playing time.
The rate of that growth has been such that few are in any doubt that yes, Dembélé really could do a decent job of stepping into the Brazilian’s shoes. The rest is well-documented – the now 20-year-old skipping training, and the club suspending him, with Watzke heavily criticising Barça for their role in turning his head.
Yet in the week leading up to this game, even if the issue is still unresolved, there was a sense that the rest of the squad had pulled together. In fact, Dembélé would have enjoyed himself a lot more at the Volkswagen Arena – where he scored his first Dortmund goal last September – than sitting at home fretting about a possible transfer.
Dortmund were sensational, fun to watch and ruthless, making mincemeat of pessimistic predictions. The hunger and tempo associated with Bosz was in full throttle – notably, Nuri Sahin told Sky afterwards that “we were super prepared” – and there were a number of positives. Christian Pulisic, in Dembélé’s right-wing role, was excellent, scoring the opener and laying the third on a plate for Aubameyang, who looked fresh and engaged.
Mario Götze, praised by his coach as “a special player”, was excellent on his comeback from a serious metabolic problem, being involved in two of the goals. Maximilian Philipp had a successful debut on the left and Marc Bartra scored his first goal for the club, a delicious curling shot from a tight angle, which he dedicated to the victims of the Barcelona attacks.
On the other side, Wolfsburg had come in with fresh signings and new optimism, but were absolutely rotten. Wolfsburger Allgemeine called the 3-0 loss “flattering” after their local team had 29% of possession and not a single shot on target. They defended poorly and when they won the ball back, they punted aimless balls forward for Mario Gomez to chase, largely bypassing their new central midfield of Ignacio Camacho and Riechedly Bazoer. “Dortmund surprised me,” said the Wolfsburg coach, Andries Jonker, underlining the fact that his players seemed as poorly set as Dortmund’s were ready. “They were really good today.”
His countryman Bosz on the other hand, could even afford a few kind words for Dembélé, whom he eulogised in his post-match press conference as an exceptional talent. By dealing with the present effectively, he has made the future something for others to worry about.
• Bayern Munich, after a tricky pre-season, beat Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 in the season opener on Friday. The new signings Niklas Süle and Corentin Tolisso both scored. We even saw effective use of VAR, with the referee Tobias Stieler using it to confirm Charles Aránguiz’s foul on Robert Lewandowski, allowing the Pole to score the third from the penalty spot. So why the slight feeling of dissatisfaction? The amount of chances that Heiko Herrlich’s side carved out was alarming, with Bayern’s new midfield great going forward but offering precious little protection to their defence. “It’s true that we didn’t defend well,” said Carlo Ancelotti, “and left space in between the lines. We have to improve, and quickly.” With rumblings from the dressing room over a lack of serious preparation, he may have to coach a little more intensely than usual.
• There are few better ways to begin a campaign than with a derby win, and that’s exactly what Borussia Mönchengladbach did against Köln. If there were any complaints, it was that Gladbach’s dominance wasn’t reflected in the scoreline, with only a goal from Nico Elvedi – another who’d never scored for his club before this weekend – the difference. “Looking at the table last season hurt,” said Christoph Kramer, “and not just because of Köln [being higher]. We’ll do everything to catch them up.”
• The penultimate game of the weekend, directly before that, was a goalless draw between Freiburg and Eintracht Frankfurt, in which Kevin-Prince Boateng made his debut for the latter as a substitute. The VAR also worked like clockwork in the Black Forest, with the home side’s Tim Kleindienst correctly denied his first goal for the club after a Florian Niederlechner offside in the buildup.
• It wasn’t the start that the fancied RB Leipzig were looking for as they went down 2-0 at Schalke, with Die Königsblauen’s new head coach, Domenico Tedesco, making a great first impression in the Bundesliga. His side were tough, well-organised … in fact, they were most things that you wouldn’t have expected from the Gelsenkirchen team last season. Though Nabil Bentaleb, the scorer of the opener, was excellent, the clinching goal said it all – a combination between Tedesco’s new wide man, Amine Harit, who provided the perfect through pass for the regenerated Yevhen Konoplyanka to expertly apply the finish. A counterattacking goal right out of the Leipzig manual, in fact – people really have been paying attention. Tedesco may want to distance himself from Julian Nagelsmann comparisons but when Leon Goretzka praised the coach’s “social competence” after the game, they were impossible to avoid.
• The real Julian Nagelsmann got his Hoffenheim back on course after that rarest of things, a home defeat, in the midweek Champions League tie with Liverpool. Andrej Kramaric, who missed a crucial penalty in that game, began to make up for it with the winner against Werder Bremen, albeit aided by an enormous deflection off Robert Bauer. Alexander Nouri’s team, meanwhile, sensed a missed opportunity before their opponents’ big night at Anfield on Wednesday. “We could have been braver,” said their striker Max Kruse.
• Hamburg responded well to their embarrassing Pokal loss to Osnabrück, beating Augsburg 1-0 at the Volkspark thanks to an early Nikolai Müller goal. HSV being HSV, though, it wasn’t straightforward, with the goalscorer remarkably rupturing knee ligaments after landing awkwardly during the subsequent celebration, a social media titter turned season-ending horror by Sunday morning. They’ll miss Müller, whose career at the club has been blighted by injury – he combines forward dynamism with a fearsome work ethic. A clean sheet is good news at least and, if we’re being fatalistic, those three points could weigh heavily in the final reckoning against a possible relegation rival.
• Hannover, who had such a turbulent pre-season off the pitch, received a fine fillip on it at Mainz, with the wily Martin Harnik’s goal giving André Breitenreiter’s side the points. The other promoted side, the Bundesliga 2 champions, Stuttgart, didn’t fare as well, going down 2-0 at Hertha Berlin, for whom their new Australian signing Mathew Leckie scored twice – the first, to break the deadlock just before half-time, was a brilliantly taken, Didier Drogba-esque effort, turning inside from the right before hitting his finish into the far corner with his left foot. Hannes Wolf’s XI contained six top-flight debutants and it showed, though Holger Badstuber and Dennis Aogo, who both made their debuts as second-half substitutes, will add experience to Stuttgart’s mix.
Bayern Munich 3-1 Bayer Leverkusen, Hoffenheim 1-0 Werder Bremen, Hoffenheim 1-0 Werder Bremen, Hertha Berlin 2-0 Stuttgart, Hamburg 1-0 Augsburg, Mainz 0-1 Hannover, Wolfsburg 0-3 Borussia Dortmund, Schalke 2-0 RB Leipzig, Borussia Mönchengladbach 1-0 Köln, Freiburg 0-0 Eintracht Frankfurt
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