Every team has their blind spot, their house of horror, where they can’t put a foot right. On the weekend of Der Klassiker we were emphatically reminded that Borussia Dortmund’s bad place is against ostensibly their biggest domestic rivals.
“In Munich,” wrote the ESPN journalist Stephan Uersfeld, “Dortmund are the new Hamburg.”
They are currently in the second tier, but Hamburg have lost their past nine Bundesliga games at Bayern dating back to 2010, including two 8-0s, two 6-0s, two 5-0s and a 9-2. There is more than flippancy in the comparisons. Dortmund have now been on the end of six successive Bundesliga defeats at the Allianz Arena, with the five most recent by scores of 5-1, 4-1, 6-0, 5-0 and now 4-0.
They themselves didn’t need the focus of the numbers to feel the jinx. Ten days on from Halloween, Lucien Favre’s team looked spooked from the get-go, with the ominous sign 39 seconds in when Roman Bürki had to be quickly off his line to clear from Robert Lewandowski, after the visitors’ defence was split by a simple straight ball. It wouldn’t be the last time in another chastening experience in Bavaria for BVB.
It was an evening that Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Christof Kneer called “bad news for the league”, as Bayern made the very idea of competition look fanciful.
Many of the familiar themes were present – Lewandowski’s utter dominance against his former team, beginning from the superb, stooping first-half header from Benjamin Pavard’s cross, was unavoidable. Dortmund’s tentativeness was another, and the extent to which they were simply exhausted by the efforts expended by their stirring Champions League comeback against Internazionale might have been more closely examined in a context outside that of their recent history in Munich.
The not-quite-fit Jadon Sancho, who dribbled the ball out of play in his first involvement and was uncommonly indecisive before being substituted with ten minutes still to go in the first half, was perhaps a symptom of that hangover.
Yet this felt, six days on from Niko Kovac’s exit, like a new beginning under Hansi Flick, the coach who was Bayern’s stash pick in the summer, brought in above Kovac’s head seemingly exactly for the sort of eventuality like last week’s capitulation in Frankfurt. The effects have been, according to the influential Thomas Müller (who famously didn’t click with Kovac), “outstanding in such a short time”.
Leon Goretzka, starting in the league for the first time this season, talked about Flick having “changed the attitude” of the team already and it was evident from the off in the snap and press that the champions employed all over the field – a style that, many argued, Kovac couldn’t draw from a set of players who simply didn’t have it in them.
It was difficult to judge whether Dortmund’s lethargy was a result of digging deep on Tuesday, or whether they simply looked slower by comparison with Bayern’s renewed hunger. The goal which effectively finished the game, by Serge Gnabry, was tucked away after a lightning transition, a mere 64 seconds into the second half.
“Flick has managed to make Bayern believe they are Bayern again,” wrote Kneer. Not that anyone in the Bayern camp is under any illusions that this is a quick fix.
There was even the odd banner supporting Kovac and his brother (and assistant) Robert, thanking them for their efforts and signalling there is acknowledgement in the fanbase that it wasn’t all down to the coach. This was an occasion, though, to express relief, to embrace the hope that the inertia of the past few years might be drawing to a close. Uli Hoeness, in his last match as president, exulted in the stands – “He nearly knocked me down the stairs after the first goal,” his habitual watching partner Karl-Heinz Rummenigge remarked – and his seal of approval for Flick followed. “Clearly Flick is our first candidate as a coach,” Hoeness said, signalling that his step back from the frontline won’t make his opinions more hidden.
On the other side, it was a deflating end to a run of three successive wins in big games for Favre, bookended by that triumph against Inter, and it was an indication that questions over his suitability to take Dortmund to where they really want to go will still be asked.
Favre, who had talked about his side having “nothing to lose” going into this game, could be argued to still not quite have the requisite ambition, with Marco Reus and Paco Alcácer – admittedly, both with fitness issues – only brought on after an hour with BVB already two down and hanging on in the game by their fingernails.
Ambition has never been an issue for the Rekordmeister. Flick and his future can wait. For now, playing like the big, bad Bayern of old felt good.
• There were moments of reflection, both silent and full of applause, around all Bundesliga grounds before kick-off as the league paid its respects to late Germany goalkeeper Robert Enke, 10 years on from his passing. It also served to highlight the work of the Robert Enke Foundation, involved in helping people with mental health issues and also children with heart conditions.
• While the big boys continued to trip over each other, Borussia Mönchengladbach extended their lead at the top to four points with a 3-1 against Werder Bremen. Not that it was as comfortable as it looks on paper – Yuyo Osaka had a goal controversially ruled out after referral to VAR when it was 2-0, while Davy Klaassen saw a penalty saved by Yann Sommer at the same score – but hot on the heels of Gladbach’s gala Europa League win against Roma, it underlined that they are on a roll. The attacking punch available to Marco Rose is still the key, with the revitalised Patrick Hermann chipping in with a double here.
• It was a special Saturday afternoon in Berlin as Hertha commemorated 30 years since the fall of the wall before their home game with RB Leipzig. The home side also wore special kits for the occasion, and local lad Maximilian Mittelstädt opened the scoring with a cracker. Unfortunately for his fellow Berliner, the coach Ante Covic, Leipzig came back, led home by a Timo Werner brace and the presence in the stand of Jürgen Klinsmann, recently appointed to Hertha’s supervisory board, was a reminder of gradually rising expectation as they were leapfrogged by Union in the table, one week on from the derby.
• Two coaches were on their way after the weekend’s action – Köln, unsurprisingly, moved on Achim Beierlorzer after his team’s heartbreaking last-gasp Friday night defeat against Hoffenheim, while Sandro Schwarz left Mainz after their 3-2 defeat by Union, the top-flight debutants’ first away win of the season.
• The end of an entertaining enough meeting between Freiburg and Eintracht Frankfurt in Sunday’s late game (won 1-0 by Freiburg) exploded with a left-field twist in the dying embers of stoppage time when the Eintracht captain, David Abraham – on his way to hurriedly return the ball from touch – quite deliberately leaned in and bodychecked the home head coach Christian Streich, knocking the 54-year-old off his feet and sparking a huge melee. Abraham, who had been simmering for a number of minutes before the collision, was sent off, meaning Eintracht finished with nine, as was the already substituted Vincenzo Grifo of Freiburg.
Abraham was on a post-match charm offensive, posing for pics with Grifo on social media and releasing a club statement in which he apologised to Streich (“I’m very glad that we talked after the game,” he said, “and everything is fine between us”) but he still faces the prospect of a long ban.