TOs Covid restrictions begin to ease at last, Borussia Dortmund’s first home sell-out in more than two years was a sight to behold. It was something that RB Leipzig’s Domenico Tedesco was keen to pre-warn his young side about – although as he later pointed out in an ESPN interview, it was something the home players were not used to experiencing recently either.
The bitter disappointment for most of those in Westfalen on Saturday evening was that while the color returned to the stands, it was the same old, same old on the pitch. Leipzig coasted to a 4-1 victory after a testing initial 20 minutes, and Tedesco was happy to explain just how his midfield and forwards were able to emerge unperturbed towards a prone BVB defence.
Tedesco has brought gloom to this arena before – he was the Schalke coach when they recovered from a 4-0 half-time deficit to take home a point in a memorable Revierderby in November 2017 which accelerated the fall of the then-Dortmund head coach, Peter Bossz. That, though, was different, a shocking punch to the gut. This felt sadly inevitable.
The last time BVB lost two Bundesliga games by a three-goal margin at home in the same season was in 1990-91, when they finished 10th. They have now lost two games by that distance in this calendar year – both at home and both against rivals, in Leverkusen and now Leipzig. Both the visitors could have scored more. Rarely can a team so assured of second place – even now, with a reduced six-point cushion, the runners-up spot will be theirs barring a quite extraordinary collapse – so frequently underwhelm.
“I think we played a good first half,” Manuel Akanji said after the game. “Except for the goals we gave them.” That is a pretty big caveat, but one that adds up to Dortmund’s season. We know they are capable of the sublime, but there are far too many individual moments and far too little group cohesion – as has been the case for a while. The same returning fans who gave their players “goosebumps” (in Akanji’s words) with their vociferous support booed in some areas of the stadium, and there were even a smattering of chants for Marco Rose to go.
The former Gladbach coach will probably get his second season, with a huge injury list and an unevenly built squad not doing him any favours. Instead it will be the job of the incoming sporting director, Sebastian Kehl, to implement what appears more and more likely to be a sweeping program of reform. That includes rebuilding the defense around the incoming Niklas Süle and getting rid of the increasingly laboring old heads such as Marco Reus and Mats Hummels, alongside whom Kehl played.
That this latest undressing was in front of a full house hurt, but that it was administered by Leipzig was even worse for Westfalen. It would be unfair to say the rest of the Bundesliga’s supporters have forgotten where Leipzig have come from, or even that they have come close to accepting them – but distaste for the model is at least as strong in Dortmund as it is anywhere else.
The protests – and some less savory behavior around the ground – on Leipzig’s first visit in 2017 landed BVB with a huge fine and partial stadium closure. The banner in the Südtribune on Sunday which proclaimed “Trotz Pandemie bleibt ihr die größte Seuche der liga” – despite the pandemic, you remain the biggest plague in the league – underlined the fact that those feelings remain.
If the flashing warning signs are not heeded by those at the Dortmund helm, those fans might have to get used to a more permanent reordering of the hierarchy seeking to tug at Bayern’s coattails.
It was all about the substitutes in the Black Forest as Bayern Munich won 4-1, with the perennial super-sub Nils Pedersen initially equalizing for Freiburg 17 seconds after coming on, before Serge Gnabry regained Bayern’s lead 33 seconds after his own entrance. The big news was the change that (initially) didn’t happen, though. After a double substitution by the visitors involved two going on but only one coming off, Freiburg’s Nico Schlotterbeck informed the referee, Christian Dingert, that Bayern had 12 men on the pitch for some 20 seconds. “If I didn’t tell him, I don’t think he sees it at all,” the young Germany centre-back said.
The confusion was caused by an error on the Bayern bench, with Kingsley Coman supposed to be withdrawn but 29 – the winger’s old number – raised rather than his current No 11. The game was then held up for eight minutes with Bayern already leading 3- 1 as Dingert, his assistants and VAR verified exactly what had happened. The picture was further obscured by Corentin Tolisso – the only one of the two intended players who actually had gone off – nipping to the toilet, according to Julian Nagelsmann. His opposite number Christian Streich played down the suggestion that Freiburg might appeal to have the game replayed. After all, who would want to play Bayern more times than they had to?
There were few grounds in which the return of fans was felt quite like it was in Köpenick, where Union Berlin opened the weekend with a single-goal win against Koln on Friday night. The locals got what they came for, not just in terms of the communal experience but on the pitch too, with Taiwo Awoniyi snaffling up an errant Jonas Hector backpass to score the decider and become the Union’s top Bundesliga scorer of all time. “We’re now at 41 points,” said the coach, Urs Fischer, who might tentatively start to look up towards another European qualification. “It’s a joyful evening,”
At the bottom, Arminia Bielfeld leapfrogged Herta – who paid for a slow start in a 2-1 reverse at Leverkusen – into the relegation playoff spot by snatching a 1-1 draw with Stuttgart in the weekend’s big basement battle. Florian Krüger’s smart back-post finish earned a point after the visitors had led via Sasa Kalajdzic and missed a host of chances to extend their lead. “It’s two points dropped,” lamented Stuttgart’s coach, Pellegrino Matarazzo, though he emphasized that the health of Arminia’s Fabian Klos was the main thing. Klos sustained a “serious head injury”, per the club, in a stoppage-time collision with his own teammate, Alessandro Schöpf. Arminia’s all-time top scorer with 148 goals, Klos is leaving the club in the summer and is out “indefinitely”.
stuttgart are just a point above Arminia and still very much in danger, despite taking as many points as Bayern from their past four games. augsburg leapt forward after Iago’s first-minute strike paved the way for a 3-0 win against wolfsburg, who are wobbling five points above the drop zone after three successive defeats. Another busy performance from Yann Sommer saved Borussia Monchengladbach from defeat at home against Mainz, and they now seem to have just enough to not be drawn into the scrap.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism