“So wie 2010-11” – Just like 2010-11 – tweeted the journalist and Borussia Dortmund fan Stephan Uersfeld in the moments after Stefan Kiessling’s goal sealed the deal for Bayer Leverkusen at Signal Iduna Park on Saturday evening. Factually speaking, he was spot on. In that campaign following the last World Cup, Die Schwarzgelben had also slumped to defeat on the season’s opening day; at the same venue, against the same opposition, even with the same scoreline (2-0).
For those fond of statistical portents, Bayern Munich also beat Wolfsburg 2-1 in their 10-11 opener, a repeat of which was served up at the Allianz Arena on Friday night. Four years ago, that campaign ended up with Dortmund as champions and Louis van Gaal out on his ear in spring, as Bayern eventually came in third.
The thing is, Uersfeld’s tongue was placed firmly in his cheek.
It was a self-deprecating stab at finding a silver lining on a big, black cloud of an opening day for Jürgen Klopp’s team. Karim Bellarabi’s goal for Leverkusen after nine seconds – the fastest in the Bundesliga’s 51-year history – was the least jocular ice-bucketing that the locals could have imagined, a chastening and abrupt end to what had been a cautiously optimistic buildup to the season.
Worse still for those hoping for more of a title tussle than a Bavarian saunter over the next nine months was the horrible sinking feeling that Dortmund were showing exactly how they were incapable of providing the former, and instead simply teeing up the latter.
Bellarabi’s historic moment was not without its romance; the 24-year-old was an unlikely candidate to take centre stage after spending last year on loan participating in modest Eintracht Braunschweig’s doomed – if entertaining – battle to stay in the Bundesliga. He went on to create the second for Kiessling, while the new signing Josip Drmic (the scorer of 17 goals for relegated Nürnberg last season) was an unused, and unneeded, substitute. It was fairytale stuff too for Roger Schmidt, as the freshly arrived coach enjoyed a debut probably beyond his wildest dreams.
Yet between Leverkusen’s opener – a nightmarish opening to World Cup-winning Matthias Ginter’s Dortmund career, as Bellarabi nutmegged him before scoring – and the moment some 22 hours earlier when Junior Malanda somehow managed to spurn the chance to snare Wolfsburg a point in Munich when facing an open goal, it was hard to escape the sensation that Bayern’s ascent is inexorable. If the actors have rotated, with the metaphorical champagne bottles still littering Germany’s football landscape, the script remains well-versed, with Dortmund committing surprisingly basic errors for such a perpetually accomplished team.
“Making sure the team is awake is my responsibility,” Klopp insisted after the match, and he wasn’t necessarily just referring to Dortmund’s somnambulant start. Left-back Erik Durm (like Ginter, a non-playing member of Jögi Löw’s triumphant World Cup squad) made the misjudgment that allowed Bellarabi to create the second, right at the end of the match. In between, there was little of the tempo one associates with recent grand occasions at the Westfalen like the Champions League meetings with Real Madrid, or even domestically in the second-half comeback against Wolfsburg at the tail end of last season.
It was a sobering scene, especially given the encouragements of recent weeks, including a comprehensive Supercup win over Bayern and a resounding DfB-Pokal victory at Stuttgart Kickers last week. Those two matches backed up an ambition that was difficult to disguise this summer, even if the club’s hierarchy insist their aims are simply to secure second spot and reach the Champions League’s knockout stage. Dortmund spent €43m (£34.3m) on reinforcements, including the strikers Adrián Ramos and Ciro Immobile, in the wake of Robert Lewandowski’s exit, more than any other German club to date (at least until Bayern complete their mooted purchase of Roma’s Mehdi Benatia).
Even more pertinently, the club set about raising €115m (£91.7m) of capital in a share issue. Their shirt sponsors, Evonik, their kit manufacturers, Puma, and the financial services firm Signal Iduna all now hold minor stakes – reminiscent of Bayern’s own business plan, which sold shareholdings to their close partners Audi and Adidas. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Bayern’s CEO, last week described Dortmund’s move as “the biggest compliment” they could pay to their rivals.
On the field, Klopp had attempted to revive the spirit of his own early days in charge by reverting to a 4-4-2, with a midfield diamond, but with the veteran Sebastian Kehl – in his final season at the club – labouring at its rear tip and Marco Reus clearly lacking fitness at its front, the team lacked width and incision. With their own fevered pressing (“We did well to get the system going after so little time,” Kiessling enthused afterwards), Leverkusen performed the tactical equivalent of what thieves did to Lewandowski’s black Porsche Cayenne in the months leading up to his departure, when they removed his high-spec wheels and left it standing on bricks in his drive.
If Bayern have seemed vulnerable post-World Cup, shorn of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Franck Ribéry (again) and a host of others and with Pep Guardiola reshuffling his defence, they coped well in their Friday opener. The 17-year-old Gianluca Gaudino (the son of Manchester City cult figure Maurizio) stepped in to deliver an emphatic performance on his league debut. In the north, the reminder was that despite Dortmund’s evolution, the classic Klopp spine is still essential – Roman Weidenfeller, Mats Hummels, Neven Subotic and Nuri Sahin cannot come back into full service quickly enough. Back in 2010, BVB followed defeat to Leverkusen with seven successive wins. It will take a similar run to convince many that we can have a real title race on our hands this time around.
• Oh Schalke, Schalke, Schalke. Has a friend ever called you up the morning after the rather long night before and lamented that they keep on making the same old mistakes over and over? If so, they might find a kindred spirit in Jens Keller. Following a DfB-Pokal exit to third-tier Dynamo Dresden last week, they contrived to throw away a lead when in command at unfancied Hannover, conceding twice in three minutes to lose 2-1 – both goals scored from counterattacks, a familiar achilles heel. Keller is under the cosh already.
• Nobody is going to tear out Wolfsburg for succumbing to a narrow defeat at Bayern but, in a season wheN they are determined to secure a return to the Champions League, there was a weighty sense of what might have been. Quite apart from Malanda’s astonishing miss (as referenced above), they had other opportunities to improve a lamentable record of 19 defeats and a draw in 20 previous visits to Munich. Bayern’s creaky rearguard rocked even more after Kevin De Bruyne moved to the right, to great effect. Dieter Hecking needs to work out exactly how he thinks best to align the considerable attacking talent at his disposal.
• Forget Bellarabi – Germany’s real fairytale for the weekend unfolded some 70 miles east of Dortmund, as little Paderborn popped their top-flight cherry on Sunday afternoon. They were denied a maiden win in agonising fashion, with Koo Ja-cheoi’s 95th-minute penalty snatching a point for Mainz in front of 15,000 at the Benteler-Arena (now the Bundesliga’s smallest). “We can all be proud,” reasoned the coach, André Breitenreiter, after the game. Propelled by a lively squad epitomised by Elias Kachunga, who hit a stylish equaliser for their first-ever top-flight goal, they might have a few more surprises in store.
• Scrappy? Check. Flawed? Check. If Kevin Keegan ever resumes his Soccer Skills series, he is unlikely to use his former club Hamburg’s goalless stalemate at promoted Köln as study material. The current coach, Mirko Slomka, will care little, however, with his side showing welcome solidity after shipping an eye-watering 75 goals last season (the division’s worst defence) as Der Dinosaurier almost lost their ever-present status in the league. The former West Ham midfield firebrand Valon Behrami, who was excellent, adding some much-needed steel as Slomka ended a hellish run of 15 successive Bundesliga away losses, going back to time in charge his previous club Hannover.
Results: Gladbach 1-1 VfB Stuttgart, Paderborn 2-2 Mainz, Dortmund 0-2 Leverkusen, Frankfurt 1-0 Freiburg, Köln 0-0 Hamburg, Hannover 2-1 Schalke, Hoffenheim 2-0 Augsburg, Hertha Berlin 2-2 Bremen, Bayern 2-1 Wolfsburg
Raphael Honigstein will be back in a fortnight