Bayern cogs turn ominously but new faces breathe life into Bundesliga

·6-min read

Meet the new boss, just like the old boss. Though the opening weekend of the Bundesliga had its familiar themes and outcomes, it most definitely had a story to tell. Some will tut or shrug, but they shouldn’t. “You don’t go to the theatre because you’re wondering how the swan from Swan Lake will turn out,” as Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Martin Schneider put it.

Let’s start with what the world most expected, or at least feared. Bayern Munich began 2022-23 like a hurricane, not so much pulling back the curtain to the campaign on Friday night at Eintracht Frankfurt as tearing it off and discarding it. Even a flickering thought that the champions might struggle to find their attacking feet without the departed Robert Lewandowski was quickly extinguished. Julian Nagelsmann’s team were ferocious, with Sadio Mané immediately fitting into the vertical onslaught. It was clear from the coach’s celebrations on the touchline just how thrilled he was by his team’s front-foot manner.

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Forty-two minutes into the new season and Bayern already led 5-0 at the home of their shell-shocked hosts, all the hostility of the renowned Deutsche Bank Park no match for the champs in belligerent mood. Moaning about the same old Bayern is to ignore the actual content – this may have been largely one-sided but it was also thrilling. Mané, Serge Gnabry and Thomas Müller are already clicking, and Jamal Musiala was again outstanding. Without Lewandowski different ways must be found. Joshua Kimmich had plenty of targets as he lined up a fifth-minute free-kick. In the event he ignored them all and bent the ball around the wall and into the corner of the net, blindsiding Kevin Trapp. He was one of five different goalscorers on the night.

This was chastening for Eintracht but they actually got off lightly. They could and should have conceded double figures, but the visitors hit the woodwork three times and Müller fluffed an almost-unmissable chance at the apex of the first-half goal avalanche. “How can I put it?” shrugged Müller after the match. “It’s probably doing the rounds on the internet already.”

Fortunately for his fears of instant digital infamy, it’s difficult to fit a miss into a 90-second highlight package that already features seven goals. The Müller fumble was this Friday-night frightener for Frankfurt in a nutshell. Bayern could afford more than a few moments of profligacy, not least when Manuel Neuer wandered from his goal and stumbled over the ball to present debutant substitute Randal Kolo Muani with a scarcely consoling consolation goal. Oliver Glasner’s Europa League winners might normally expect it to get easier from here, except they now travel to Helsinki for Wednesday’s Uefa Super Cup meeting with Real Madrid. So maybe it gets easier from next week, even if they face the possibility of losing Filip Kostic to Juventus before then.

Six hours north and less than a day later, Union Berlin were climbing their own mountain – perhaps with an even more acute incline, given their comparative resources. As Bayern had lost Lewandowski, the team from Köpenick were putting their best foot forward without Taiwo Awoniyi, their top scorer from last season, their top scorer of all-time in the top-flight, and whose 15 Bundesliga goals last term included one on the final day which confirmed Union’s qualification for the Europa League.

Union Berlin fans were treated to a derby win.
Union Berlin fans were treated to a derby win. Photograph: Filip Singer/EPA

Like Bayern, Union also handled the loss of their main source of goals – and on the biggest of stages, in the Berlin derby. Jordan Siebatcheu, having fished his new team out of trouble in the DfB Pokal at fourth-tier Chemnitzer last week, pitched for full hero-status with a smart near-post header from Sheraldo Becker’s cross, with Becker then scoring a stylish second – the Dutchman will be asked to step up post-Awoniyi. Robin Knoche’s header meant Union were home and hosed way before Dodi Lukebakio’s late consolation.

This gave Union a fourth derby-win in a row, with any gentle early-season optimism for Hertha now punctured – this comprehensive defeat represented a miserable follow-up to last week’s Pokal exit at Eintracht Braunschweig, in which they squandered an early two-goal lead. Union finished 24 points clear of Hertha last season, arriving into European competition – in which they will play their home fixtures at Hertha’s Olympiastadion - for a second straight season, albeit a tier up this time around. Their city rivals face a long road back to relevance.

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The manner, though, is all important for Union, underlining the raising of standards and expectations – they are not content to merely rule the capital. Sporting director Oliver Ruhnert and coach Urs Fischer both had harsh words to say to their team after recent performances , and that was still in mind even after victory. “For me, the reaction was almost more important than the win, said Fischer. “We demanded it and expected it from ourselves after the cup match.”

Even if some of the Bundesliga’s signposts are in the same place, the route is going to be different this year. It promises us plenty to enjoy.

Talking points

  • Borussia Dortmund began their campaign with a not-always-comfortable win over Leverkusen. Considering they conceded the quickest goal in Bundesliga history to Karim Bellarabi in the same fixture on the opening day in 2014, puncturing their season’s hopes nine seconds in, a victory offered by Marco Reus’ goal wasn’t bad at all, even if they had to dig in late on – and goalkeeper Gregor Kobel, one of last season’s standouts, had to excel again. “The most important thing,” said returning coach Edin Terzić, “is we defended with everything we’ve got.” If you can’t have total security, you can at least have full engagement.

Karim Adeyemi (centre) looked bright for Dortmund before coming off injured.
Karim Adeyemi (centre) looked bright for Dortmund before coming off injured. Photograph: Thilo Schmülgen/Reuters
  • Perhaps more concerning is the worry of last season’s injury misery following BVB into this term. With Niklas Süle already sidelined, Karim Adeyemi was withdrawn in the first half after a bright opening. Meanwhile the club seem to have found their replacement for the unwell Sébastien Haller, with Köln’s Anthony Modeste set to join this week on the back of his redemption season in the cathedral city. It’s expensive for a short-term fix, with reports of a €5 million fee and a €6 million wage on a one-year deal, but Modeste’s physical profile and familiarity with the Bundesliga has swung it.

  • Leipzig arguably looked in even greater need of a striker as they frittered away a series of chances at Stuttgart after Christopher Nkunku’s opener, with Naouirou Ahamada’s stylish and maiden Bundesliga goal earning the hosts a point. Timo Werner’s impending return to the club from Chelsea on a permanent deal should remedy some of the issues, and indicates the growing ambition of the club.

  • Finally, three cheers for Daniel Farke, who followed a week in which Borussia Mönchengladbach won 9-1 at Oberachern in the Pokal and inked Alassane Pléa to a new deal, by guiding his new team to an opening-day win over Hoffenheim. Pléa was excellent and provided two assists.