Winter is coming to Bavaria. The autumnal Oktoberfest is a distant memory; steins and eisswurst are exchanged for gluhwein and stollen as the season draws in. Nature moves inexorably into the forests, driving away the old, tired remnants of life, before younger, fresher replacements swoop in come springtime. Such an impression was given at the cold, packed Allianz Arena on Saturday, when the sluggish, turgid play of Bayern Munich was finally, adroitly exposed by the vibrant youth of Borussia Dortmund.
Bayern, utterly dominant at home thus far, looked statuesque as whirling yellow dervishes flitted around them, harassing, pestering, tormenting. Bayern are not an old side, far from it, but they were made to look it by Jurgen Klopp’s team. Dortmund cannot afford superstars like Robben and Ribery, but they have invested in youngsters so energetic that two, sometimes three were in attendance whenever Bayern’s playmakers received the ball. Dortmund had come, predominantly, for a point, and they always looked like getting one. As his teammates buzzed across the field, Max Hummels stood still, as an utterly imperious Queen watches her worker bees; making only the occasional, but devastatingly effective, contribution.
Dortmund’s attacking threat is led by Mario Gotze, a prize coveted by the finest clubs in Europe. Fittingly, it was he who stole an unlikely winner, the goal itself more a testimony to his team’s industry and commitment than his own mercurial genius. Whatever it lacked in aesthetic appeal, Gotze’s goal is a critical one for the Bundesliga. As we approach the winter break, Bayern’s supposedly iron grip on first place is down to a tentative two points, with Dortmund in much better form after overcoming a sluggish start. Klopp’s young team looked awkward in August, shorn of Sahin, the Madrid-bound Turkish maestro, but they are now settled, and arguably the team to beat.
Many observers would have people believe that the result in Bavaria doubled the title contenders from one to two. But that surely overlooks the fact that there is a team sitting on the same number of points as Dortmund, with better recent form than Bayern. This team, improbably enough, is Borussia Monchengladbach. Preseason candidates for relegation, die Fohlen are on an amazing run of form, led, like Dortmund, by a core of youthful talent. Grabbing the headlines is Marco Reus, the young attacking midfielder with ten goals in thirteen games, including a hat-trick in Saturday’s 5-0 demolition of Werder Bremen. His movement is outstanding, his goals frequently spectacular, and his partnership with the still younger Patrick Hermann has been one of the revelations of the season. Monchengladbach’s defence is hardly as impenetrable as it famously was in the 1970s; they have no aspiring Bertie Vogts in the team, and this may prove a fatal weakness. Yet it is within their powers to qualify for Europe, which would represent a startling achievement for manager Lucien Favre. The vulturine big clubs are circling the talented young foals, however, and it would be no surprise to see Reus Bavaria-bound before very long. “Reus is one of the most interesting young talents in Europe,” said Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, a man who knows a thing or two about attacking play. “He would give us the extra quality we seek.”
Elsewhere, Schalke won the delightfully named Fanfreundschaftspiel against Nurnberg. The fans may get along famously off the field, but Schalke could not have expected the generosity of spirit to extend to the Nurnberg defence, which capitulated 4-0 to Huntelaar and Raul. Wolfsburg won a typically heated Lower Saxony derby 4-1 against Hannover 96, a game remarkable for Hasan Salihamidzic scoring twice for the first time in easy memory, and a bizarrely pointless red card for Ya Konan for throwing the ball at a prostrate opponent. At the bottom, Augsburg was unfortunate to lose at Stuttgart, whilst Freiburg fought back from two goals down to snatch a point against Hertha. Hamburg’s minor resurgence under Thorsten Fink continues, as they disposed of a listless, disinterested Hoffenheim in Sunday’s late game. Tragically, the fixture between Koln and Mainz was postponed, after the referee reportedly attempted suicide in his hotel room on the morning of the match.
A couple of games in 2.Bundesliga were worthy of note. On the pitch, the highlight was a wild 4-3 win for leaders Eintracht Frankfurt at home to Alemannia Aachen. After cruising to a 2-0 lead, die Adler needed a last minute winner from Karim Matmour to see off an extraordinary Aachen comeback. Off the field activities predictably dominated the bitter rivalry between Hansa Rostock and St Pauli. The clubs may only be 150 miles apart, but there is a yawning gulf in politics and ideology. Rostock fans hurled flares indiscriminately into the St Pauli end, miraculously failing to injure anyone severely. “Is it still football? Is it still a game?” asked a baffled Bild, below pictures of police water cannon deployed in Rostock after the game.
Looking forward to next week, the pick of the games is surely the fierce derby between Dortmund and Schalke, which will attract 80,000 to the Westfalenstadion. It is a tricky tie for the young Dortmund side, after the emotional win at Bayern and a midweek Champions League visit to London. Schalke, solid under Huub Stevens, would leapfrog their rivals with a win. Nurnberg host Kaiserslautern in a game which may well have ramifications at the bottom of the table come May. Hamburg’s recovery will be sorely tested in the northern derby at Hannover 96, whilst on Friday night a well-rested Koln will provide a tricky test for the youngsters of Monchengladbach.
Sunday’s live games both hold interest. WerderBremen has ridden its luck for a while, before it all came crashing down atMonchengladbach. The Weserstadion will demand an upturn in fortunes against an efficient but uninspiringStuttgart side. In the final match of the round, Bayern travel to the Rhineland to take onMainz, buoyed by a good result, if not performance, against Villareal in midweek.Mainz is a tricky place to visit; the home side play a high tempo, pressing style which, in the oppressive Coface Arena, can unsettle all but the sturdiest opponents. Bayern will need to be on their mettle, for they must win games like this if they are to rest the title from theRuhr. On the evidence of last Saturday,Dortmund will not give it up easily.
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