Franck Ribéry looks to be back to his very best but he was upstaged by Thomas Müller at Hamburg
It has become common to describe the first goal in a game as a Türöffner, a door-opener. Few teams are more in need of said key intervention than Bayern, a side who truly come into their own once spaces open up in the opposition half. But on Saturday night at the Imtech Arena, it wasn't so much Bastian Schweinsteiger's stooped header before the break that made the real difference but the second goal, a truly wondrous strike from Thomas Müller. There's no obvious comparison in tool box terms but if Schweinsteiger opened the door, Müller knocked up an exquisitely-shaped chaise longue for the visitors to settle down and put their feet up for good in the 3-0 win at Hamburg. "It was important for us, it gave us the chance to take a deep breath," the 23-year-old said about his unlikely strike.
Chances are people in Germany will see it again and again this season. It's a dead-cert for the Goal of the Month competition and will push Marco Reus's pile-driver against Greece at the Euros all the way for the Goal of the Year prize, too.
"I looked up and didn't see anyone for the cross, so I tried to have a go myself," he explained later, "and I had a good foot." The HSV keeper René Adler was anticipating a cross and admitted to getting his angles "all wrong" but then again, who could have expected Müller shooting past the goalie from just inside the touchline, on the turn? "Anatoliy Tymoshchuk scores similar goals in training but not while the ball is in play," Müller joked later. The 2-0 ensured an ultimately comfortable evening for Bayern who mercifully slowed down after Toni Kroos had added a third. As reactions after defeats go, this was impressive stuff, Hamburg's glaring lack of quality notwithstanding. "They were one, maybe two levels ahead of us," said Adler. Asked about a perceived duel for the Germany gloves with Manuel Neuer, the 27-year-old came up with a knowing smile. "I lost that battle in glorious fashion," he offered.
Franck Ribéry's devastating performance saw the Frenchman hailed as the best Ribéry ever; he's indeed close to his 2007 level, perhaps even better. But this was Müller's win, really. After an indifferent season and hot-and-cold Euros, many expected the gangly and somewhat erratic attacking midfielder to fall victim of Bayern's push for more depth in the squad. With Swiss "magic cube" (Blick) Xerdan Shaqiri coming in and Toni Kroos all but immovable in the No10 spot, Müller looked set for campaign as a bit-part player. And when (fairly spurious) rumours about interest from Arsenal surfaced in July, it's fair to assume that his departure would not have caused mass protests outside the club's HQ in Säbenerstrasse.
Instead, he has emerged as the club's most consistent midfielder, just ahead of the more cultured and technically impressive Kroos. Seven goals in the league have already equalled his tally for 2011-12. Müller has become the designated penalty-taker, too, after a series of misses from Arjen Robben, Schweinsteiger and Mario Mandzukic. And he is increasingly the spokesperson for the team as well. More interesting than the careful captain Philipp Lahm and much more open than the slightly curmudgeonly Schweinsteiger, Müller is (at last) a truly Bavarian voice, mixing humorous irreverence with healthy confidence. "For those who thought we'd slip up, it's bad luck," he said with a smile, "we can forget the debate about us having a November depression. Others drop points, we have a superb day. It'll be a nice evening for us."
Ironically, a team that was supposed to be less dependent on his improvisation, has turned into more of a Müller-team, as far as the work ethic and his very disciplined kind of positional indiscipline goes. "We are all one or two per cent more eager to win this season," he explained. As Jörg Kramer from Der Spiegel remarked on Sky on Sunday night, all of the attacking midfielders now follow the Müller template of popping up in the most unexpected of spaces.
"It's almost impossible to tell where exactly they are playing," Kramer noted, contrasting Müller's freedom to change sides from his nominal slot on the right with the "positional football" strait-jacket under Louis van Gaal. Müller, the son of a BMW engineer, once memorably described himself as "an interpreter of space" in a Süddeutsche Zeitung interview and it's obvious that his unusual, mostly instinctive playing style is best served with a brief to go on as many exploratory runs as possible.
It's yet to be determined whether Bayern's flexibility has come as a natural consequence of the players' willingness to cover more ground or as the result of Jupp Heynckes's new master plan. But as long Bayern combine individual talent with so much hard work, it doesn't really matter. With Ribéry in perfect shape, Kroos playing superbly well, and Mario Gomez and Robben still to come back to regular first-team action, Bayern are unlikely to be shifted from the summit this season. And the various superstars will have to continue to find space on the team-sheet next to the accidental whizz kid on Grissini legs from the village of Pähl – not the other way round.
• "Maybe we're too good for this world," said Schalke 04 sporting director, Horst Heldt, philosophically on Saturday. What he meant: the Royal Blues had neglected to kill off Hoffenheim in the Rhein-Neckar-Arena, an opponent that was "already dead on a plate," as Heldt put. Markus Babbel's team were indeed inferior throughout the 90 minutes but in the end, they won the game 3-2, thanks to a general lack of sharpness from the visitors in both boxes. Huub Stevens, who never needs a reason to be in a foul mood, even when everything is rosy, was particular miffed about Sven Schipplock's last-minute winner, eight minutes after Atsuto Uchida had equalised for the second time. "You have to take the draw," grumbled Stevens, "instead I see my defenders running forward to chase a winner." Heldt added: "We were naive." A seven point-gap to leaders Bayern will spare him the "Bayern-hunter" headlines for the time being.
As preparations for Arsenal's visit on Tuesday night go, this defeat will not hurt that much either. Schalke, who might be without the centre-back Kyriakos Papadopoulos (head injury) again, will only concentrate harder on doing what they do best: getting results with impeccable organisation at the back and nigh stereotypical efficiency at the other end.
• The only goalless game of the weekend was perhaps the most entertaining and finely balanced. Stuttgart escaped with an unlikely draw that could have easily transformed into an even unlikelier win late on, but Vedad Ibisevic missed the Swabians' best chance at the home of the champions. "We have to get used to the fact that a draw feels like a defeat for us," said the dejected Borussia Dortmund coach, Jürgen Klopp.
A stray elbow from Raphael Holzhauser connected with the nose of Sebastian Kehl, sent the Black and Yellows captain into A&E and naturally divided opinion. The upshot was only a yellow card for the Austrian. Kehl will play away to Real Madrid with a face mask to protect his slightly fractured nose. Regardless of the result in the Spanish capital, though, one theory will continue to gain currency. This Dortmund squad still don't look ready to challenge in the two main competitions with the same intensity. To the detriment of the Bundesliga, all their best performances seem to come in Europe this season.
• Twenty decent opening minutes and yet another fine display from Alex Meier weren't enough for Eintracht Frankfurt to register a win against Greuther Fürth. The 1-1 draw on Friday night left Leverkusen as the biggest winners of the weekend behind Bayern. Bayer 04 were great going forward in the 3-2 win over Düsseldorf – Sidney Sam's opener was particularly handsome – but less assured at the back.
The game, however, will ultimately be remembered for the sort of problem you're more likely to encounter in the agony aunt pages of teenage magazines than on a Bundesliga pitch: Simon Rolfes only lasted 75 seconds after his introduction midway through the second half. The midfielder was sent off for a silly if not altogether terrible tackle on Adam Bodzek. Rudi Völler, the Bayer sporting director, pleaded for clemency but knew it was pointless. "We are Germans, we are German and bureaucratic," he said, quite rightly. Rolfes was suspended for one match after entering the record books with the second-fastest dismissal.
Results Frankfurt 1-1 Greuther Fürth, Dortmund 0-0 Stuttgart, Gladbach 1-1 Freiburg, Hannover 2-0 Augsburg, Nürnberg 1-0 Wolfsburg, HSV 0-3 Bayern, Hoffenheim 3-2 Schalke, Leverkusen 3-2 Düsseldorf, Bremen 2-1 Mainz.