In many ways, the 2016 DFL Supercup offered this season’s Bundesliga in microcosm. With Pep Guardiola’s migration to the Premier League after three seasons of dominance at Bayern Munich, a league which had seemed so unassailable before has now been blown open, leading some to suggest that this could be the year that Bayern are finally toppled from their perch. And who better to achieve this than Borussia Dortmund? BVB won back-to-back titles in 2010-11 and 11-12, but finished runners-up to Bayern in three of the four season since then. The Supercup, therefore, pitted the ancient regime against the new resistance, Bayern’s possession game against Dortmund’s counterattack, Carlos Ancelotti’s conservatism against Thomas Tuchel’s innovation.
Following the whistle after 90 intense minutes of play, Ancelotti would walk away with one of the few pieces of silverware that had eluded Guardiola in his time in German football (he lost twice to Dortmund and once to VfL Wolfsburg during his tenure). Which isn’t to say that Bayern Munich won the contest with ease. Dortmund’s blistering pace gave them the edge in the first half and, had they not spurned a number of chances, the result might have turned out quite differently.
As it was, in the second half, Bayern would score a perhaps fortuitous goal in which a miscontrol from Thomas Müller drifted into the path of Arturo Vidal who clipped it neatly beyond Roman Bürki but not before he had seen his original effort palmed back out by the keeper. Once the goal was scored, Bayern took up a more defensive attitude, preventing Dortmund from releasing their strikers into the space which had opened up behind the back four in the first half. With Dortmund struggling to break down this more defensive arrangement, Bayern had little to do but wait for a chance to catch their opponents on the break which they duly did in the seventy-ninth minute, as Müller stabbed home from a corner.
In the end, it all seemed all too easy for Bayern. But by the final whistle, many of the questions that had been raised before the game remained unanswered. Here are some of the most pressing issues that will need to be addressed by the respective clubs as they begin their campaigns in the Bundesliga.
Carlos Ancelotti famously deployed his ‘Christmas Tree’ formation with AC Milan in the early 2000s. He did this to make the most of the glut of talented central midfielders he found himself with, eventually playing Seedorf, Pirlo, Gattuso, Kaka and Rui Costa all in the same team. Over ten years later, Ancelotti brought out the trusty ‘Christmas Tree’ again for the DFL-Supercup game, with Vidal, Xavi Alonso and Thiago sitting behind Müller and Franck Ribery. The problem is that Bayern’s strengths now lie much more in their wings than in their stomach. With Kingsley Coman, Douglas Costa, Ribery and Arjen Robben all on his squad, Ancelotti needs to decide whether or not a different tactical approach might benefit the team more. Robert Lewandowski would also likely thrive in a team which hit the byline at pace.
Age before Beauty
Thomas Tuchel fielded a team with no less than six changes from the side that faced Bayern six months ago in the DFB Cup final. While he is to be commended for building a team in the short summer months that looks comparable to last year’s (which had a core that was gutted in the transfer window), he is left with a team with a much younger average age than last season’s. Yet it may be this rejuvenation of the squad that contributed to the squandering of so many chances by Dortmund in the DFL-Supercup. Tuchel needs seriously to consider where his young team will find their backbone.
Sitting on Defence?
Mats Hummel’s transfer to Bayern was met with consternation by the Dortmund fans (and boos when they saw him on the pitch). In fact, on this game’s showing, this could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for BVB as Marc Bartra proved himself to be a worthy successor to Hummels, who struggled on the night. Before Bayern dropped deeper in defence, Hummels looked nervy, no doubt as a result of his firsthand experience of Dortmund’s pacy attackers. Ancelotti needs to decide whether he will continue in the mould of Pep Guardiola’s inverted fullbacks or if he will risk playing a higher line with his centre backs functioning as playmakers. If he gets this wrong, Bayern could leach goals this season against any team with quick strikers.
Both sides put out strong teams, but the fact of the matter is that a lot of players were unavailable for this fixture. Bayern in particular have been hit by injury worries and it’s hard to imagine that the re-introduction of Jerome Boateng and Douglas Costa into their team would undoubtedly improve what is also a formidable team. Similarly, Dortmund were missing their old talisman, Mario Götze, along with Marco Reus, and only brought on Andre Schürrle and Julian Weigl late in the game. It remains to be seen how both teams will set up once the Bundesliga gets going again. What is certain, though, is that this could be the year that a one-horse race becomes a two-horse race. League play kicks off next Friday night. Here’s to hoping.