“It is as unexpected as Christmas,” wrote 11 Freunde’s Tobias Ahrens, “but still leaves bitterness.” There are Bayern Munich victories over Borussia Dortmund and there are instances of Bayern Munich winning Der Klassiker, as it is now internationally branded, and there are many different shades of the story to point to with Dortmund having won three and drawn three of the pair’s last 17 Bundesliga meetings.
Yet Saturday night’s latest edition of the fixture, however you want to describe it, requires further nuance in the description, from both sides. After five goals and a see-saw contest in which BVB scored first and last, and Bayern made the journey back south with the points, it felt like a high-quality US cop show. There was tension from opening to denouement, even if the eventual winners within the allotted time were not unexpected.
“In the end the game went as one feared – and perhaps expected,” wrote Dirk Krampe of Ruhr Nachrichten. “Borussia Dortmund were close. Closer than in the Super Cup, closer than the 0-1 in May, closer anyway than the many heavy away defeats in Munich in the recent past. Not much was missing, but in the end a little something was missing. Once again.”
Almost a year to the day from when Hansi Flick took charge of Bayern in the Bundesliga for the first time – and against the same opponents – so much has changed, even if the winning team hasn’t. On that night it felt as if the champions were galvanised by the occasion, and needed the challenge of their most frequent rivals of recent times to shake themselves out of their funk. In fact, it turns out that it was a nascent tell of what Bayern were about to become, a front-foot monster that would eventually step out of the shadow of Pep Guardiola’s vintage and stride on to even greater heights.
After the limp submission of that same night, one wondered how much further Dortmund could carry on with Lucien Favre. The fear that his teams are just too passive in the biggest matches remains – and resurfaced in the Champions League opening-night defeat to Lazio – but that was not the case here. “Bayern are extremely strong attack-wise at the moment,” Mats Hummels told Sky at full-time, “but very open defensively. So it was always clear that it was going to be this sort of game.”
The end result could have been different, too. BVB will look back on their inability to hold a lead given to them by a magnificently-crafted Marco Reus goal in the 45th minute even until half-time, on moments in the second half in which Manuel Neuer was mildly inconvenienced but not truly stretched to his best, and on the opportunity Reus had late on to fire an equaliser, but which he only succeeded in thumping into the Südtribune.
Yet the Bayern equaliser, scored by David Alaba – of all people – at the end of the first period was the game in a nutshell. It was a panicky challenge in the first place by Thomas Delaney on Serge Gnabry as he advanced towards the Dortmund goal. Then, as Bayern executed a free-kick routine more smoothly choreographed than one of Robert Lewandowski’s TikToks – Gnabry tapping the ball sideways, Lewandowski running over the ball, Thomas Müller stopping it and Alaba striking – Hummels spotted the danger, and retreated back to the goalline, to Roman Bürki’s left. He scrambled, attempted to readjust and after a deflection, just failed to get himself in the spot to ease the shot off the line. Fine, but ultimately decisive margins.
Yet while Flick and his team flourish – and there is little reason to suggest they won’t, with the luxury of bringing talent such as Leroy Sané off the bench to make contributions like his ultimately decisive goal here – the carrot of genuine competition will continue to be dangled. The coach has publicly wondered whether he should adopt a more circumspect approach, but has seemingly decided that with the talent available to him and the good feeling in the ranks, the level of risk is fine. “Bayern lead by scoring a frightening 27 goals after seven games,” wrote Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Martin Schneider on Sunday, “but with 11 conceded on paper a shakier defence than Augsburg, Stuttgart or Bremen. For a team that won the Champions League and against which a win in the industry is now referred to as the ‘toughest task in world football’, it’s an astonishing fact.”
After the meniscus injury suffered here by Joshua Kimmich, one of his irreplaceables, that will keep him out until the winter break, maybe there is room for a rethink. For now, it’s another reason for BVB, habitually fettered by “eight years of expectations projected on to them which never come true”, in Krampe’s words, to stick to their guns. They have issues, not least the below-par form of Jadon Sancho (RN’s Florian Groeger called the England winger “a shadow of himself”) as he misses his rapport with the departed Achraf Hakimi. Yet they have shown enough here, and more importantly in the rest of the season against the league’s lesser lights to keep themselves in the picture until the next face-off.
That’s what we, and the whole world apart from those with skin in the game, hope for. Fortunately, Flick and Bayern appear game enough to keep delivering.
• The battle of the wooden spooners ended as one might have expected, in an unsatisfactory stalemate. Mainz, after losing a lead late on via Jeremiah St Juste’s unlucky own goal, were far from content with a first point of the season while Schalke, having salvaged a draw in a game they had the chances to win, are now on a run of 23 Bundesliga games without a win.
• Excluding Saturday night’s headline game, you might say the Bundesliga saved the best for last this weekend, as Bayer Leverkusen overcame Borussia Mönchengladbach in a seven-goal thriller. OK, it owed plenty to imperfection – and Gladbach’s Champions League travails in Ukraine were at the forefront of the mind as they slumped after a good first half – but there was quality too, notably in Leon Bailey’s beautifully-crafted goal and Valentino Lazaro’s outrageous scorpion kick consolation. Victorious coach Peter Bosz told ESPN he would need “a good red wine and a good cigar” to bring himself down from an evening of “pure football”.
• Big-spending Hertha badly needed a win and got it at overachieving Augsburg, with the 3-0 scoreline reflecting the polish of their performance as the game went on. It was a successful first start for Matteo Guendouzi, though there was a blow as Jhon Córdoba was accidentally injured by recent Germany call-up Felix Uduokhai, who didn’t see the Colombian coming as he sought to slog clear – Córdoba will likely be missing until 2021.