When Jupp Heynckes agreed to retake the position of head coach at Bayern Munich for the remainder of the season, it seemed impossible he could enhance his reputation. Just over three weeks later – five games, five wins, and only one goal (a penalty) conceded – and maybe he has begun to do just that, at the age of 72.
All is far happier in the house of Bayern, certainly, with Saturday’s 2-0 win over Leipzig taking the champions back to the top of the table, in combination with Dortmund’s loss at Hannover, before Der Klassiker at Westfalen next weekend. Bayern travel with a three-point lead, having trailed by five when Heynckes retook the reins.
That last point, really, is the only one from which there might be a small sense of, not exactly doubt, but a lack of fulfilment from the events of the last few weeks. That Bayern have improved significantly is clear; he has, as Franck Ribéry told Monday’s Kicker, “breathed new life into the team, and he welds us together”. It’s just that, with their rivals spluttering, we are struggling to judge by exactly how much.
Saturday’s match was a case in point. It should have been the first of successive Bundesliga games to really test Bayern for the first time in a long time. It had been set up perfectly. When Leipzig and Bayern had met in the DfB Pokal at the Red Bull Arena in midweek, it had been a match that sizzled with intent. Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side took the lead even after going down to 10 men – and the feeling in the Leipzig camp was that Bayern had deliberately nibbled at Naby Keïta and looked for a reaction – before Thiago Alcântara’s equaliser signalled extra-time and eventually penalties, which Bayern edged.
That was only the half of it, though. Leipzig were furious with the referee Felix Zwayer for changing his mind after initially awarding them a first-half penalty for Arturo Vidal’s challenge on Emil Forsberg (who went on to score a later spot kick), to the extent that the sporting director Ralf Rangnick charged on the field at half-time armed with his own visual evidence on his phone, with no VAR in the Pokal. After the ensuing scuffle, even the sanguine Heynckes had his two cents. “After the games you lose,” he said, “you have to analyse what didn’t do well, which is far more productive.”
The level of needle, as well as the intensity of the game itself, piqued the anticipation for Saturday’s reunion, which is what made it such a disappointment that it was “done after 13 minutes”, as Hasenhüttl put it. That was when, after VAR review, Leipzig’s captain Willi Orban was sent off for deliberately denying a goalscoring opportunity in fouling Arjen Robben. The call was probably right, though the fact it was Leipzig’s third red card in four games against Bayern obviously nagged at the visitors.
It also killed the game, however bravely Leipzig fought on. When the opening goalscorer James Rodríguez – who was excellent throughout – said afterwards that the result “was never in doubt after we took the lead”, he wasn’t blustering. That’s not his style. It was just clear to all in the stands and on the pitch which way the wind was blowing.
It was a real shame, too, with Leipzig arriving full of confidence and seemingly well-tooled to properly examine Heynckes’ side. Instead, Hasenhüttl was forced to bring off Timo Werner and introduce the defender Ibrahima Konaté, giving the visitors a teenage central pair with which to keep out Bayern.
There were plenty of moments in which Bayern thrived – notably the second goal, expertly finished by Robert Lewandowski (who withdrew injured shortly afterwards, and misses the Champions League trip to Celtic) but created by an excellent Javi Martínez pass, with the Spaniard returned to midfield by the coach who lobbied hard for his signing in the first place. Rodríguez, making a first home Bundesliga start, was highly influential too, allaying fears he could be harmed by Carlo Ancelotti’s exit. The Colombian has been put at ease, he admits, by Heynckes’ fluency in Spanish.
It was just the feeling of what might have been. With Dortmund’s early-season fettle slipping further away, neutrals must fear feeling déjà vu at this time next week.
• Leverkusen’s fans welcomed neighbours Köln with a tifo and a half, a ‘Goatbusters’-themed display (referring to Effzeh’s nickname of the Billy Goats). If they were emboldened by the visitors’ struggles, Peter Stöger’s side were ready to respond, following a landmark week in which they parted company with their sporting director Jörg Schmadtke and then pulled off a shock win at Hertha in the Pokal, by taking the lead at BayArena via Seyrou Guirassy. It was little surprise, though, when Die Werkself deservedly turned it around after the break, switching to 4-4-2 and with Kevin Volland setting up the outstanding Leon Bailey to level, before Sven Bender made it two in two games. It looked like Bailey had returned the compliment to Volland late on for a third goal, but VAR spotted a handball by the Jamaican in the buildup and it was ruled out. “I hate it,” grimaced Bailey afterwards. Not as much as the Köln-baiting PA operator, you would guess, who had already played the Ghostbusters theme song. No such musical muppetery in the other derby, with Mainz coming back to take a point from an initially dominant Eintracht Frankfurt via substitute Suat Serdar’s stylish leveller.
• As Dortmund’s form has dipped, the only genuinely surprising aspect of their mishaps have been that they haven’t happened earlier. Just as their first Bundesliga defeat, to Leipzig a fortnight ago, saw them concede three in a game when – remarkably – they’d only let in two in the seven previous matches, Saturday’s first Bundesliga away reverse of the season, at promoted Hannover, felt like it had been coming. Sure, BVB had some bad luck – the penalty from which Jonathas scored Hannover’s opener was harsh, and Dan-Axel Zagadou’s red card at 2-2 was maybe even more so – but everything stemmed from the same old defensive faults, as Peter Bosz’s side were caught out again by straight balls. “I have no explanation for this,” said the sporting director Michael Zorc, and Dortmund could be mathematically out of Champions League contention by the time they face Bayern.
• Speaking of something you can’t believe didn’t happen already, Werder Bremen finally fired coach Alexander Nouri after Sunday’s miserable 3-0 home defeat to Augsburg, a scoreline which doesn’t fully articulate just how terrible Werder were – or, for that matter, the excellence of Manuel Baum’s surprise high-fliers. The much-missed Max Kruse returned but looked way short of match fitness, and the home side were sorely lacking in every department. Under-23 coach Florian Kohfeldt has been named caretaker and has a big job to lift spirits ahead of a permanent appointment – with Bruno Labbadia and ex-Anderlecht boss René Weiler thought to be in the frame – and Friday’s trip to Eintracht Frankfurt.
• Martin Schmidt set a Bundesliga record of six successive draws as Wolfsburg found a stoppage-time equaliser for the second straight weekend, this time at Schalke. “I told them at half-time,” smiled Schmidt afterwards, “we are invincible.” They recovered from a few setbacks – going a goal down to Nabil Bentaleb’s first-half penalty, and missing one of their own when Mario Gómez slipped as he took it (his first spot-kick miss in six years). Gómez recovered, though, with his cute headed pass laying on the leveller for Divock Origi. It was frustrating for Domenico Tedesco, whose side badly missed the injured Leon Goretzka.
• Hertha put an end to their winless run of four in the league by beating Hamburg, who extended theirs to eight. There was hope of sorts in Jann-Fiete Arp’s goal, as he became the club’s youngest-ever goalscorer at 17 years, eight months and 24 days (and first person born this century to score in the Bundesliga), beating Heung-Min Son’s record. Just above HSV are Freiburg, who had another bad day on the road with a 3-0 loss at Stuttgart – a result heavily influenced by Caglar Söyüncü’s early red card for deliberate handball, hotly disputed by coach Christian Streich and his team.
• Borussia Mönchengladbach continue to confuse – a week after pummelling Leverkusen for a half and then managing to capitulate to a 5-1 loss, they were excellent in a 3-1 win at Hoffenheim, who are now winless in four Bundesliga games. It was hats off to Vincenzo Grifo on his injury-delayed first start for Gladbach. After hitting the post with a screamer, the midfielder laid on two second-half goals, including a wonderfully mazy dribble to set up Matthias Ginter.
Results: Mainz 1-1 Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Cologne, Hannover 96 4-2 Borussia Dortmund, Hertha Berlin 2-1 Hamburg, Hoffenheim 1-3 Borussia Mönchengladbach, Schalke 1-1 Wolfsburg, Bayern Munich 2-0 Leipzig, Stuttgart 3-0 SC Freiburg, Werder Bremen 0-3 Augsburg.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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