There games, three wins. So far, so normal for Bayern Munich as they continue their pursuit of a seventh-consecutive Bundesliga title. The win over Bayer Leverkusen was routine enough, once they had recovered from the early blow of conceding a Wendell penalty.
After a Thiago handball in the box, Manuel Neuer had saved the initial take from Kevin Volland, and his follow-up effort. He had taken the penalty before referee Tobias Welz’s whistle and several players had encroached the area, meaning Welz ordered a retake, which Wendell converted with five minutes gone.
Within 15 minutes of that, they were ahead. Corentin Tolisso equalised after some scrappy defending from Leverkusen, before a misplaced header from Jonathan Tah allowed the evergreen Arjen Robben to score with a sensational volley with his second touch of the ball. Inevitably they would go on to dominate the game, but it was not until late on that they settled it.
After Karim Bellarabi saw red for Leverkusen – more on that in a moment – James Rodríguez, reportedly upset over being left out of the starting line-up, made a point by wrapping up the victory with a third goal in the 89th minute, heading in the cross from Thiago.
Niko Kovać was pleased with his side’s response to going behind early. He praised their counter-pressing and how they “didn’t let Leverkusen’s quick players get a grip.” He was disappointed they did not score the third sooner, but he said he was “satisfied with the team performance.”
However, ahead of their opening Champions League match against Benfica in Wednesday, there is cause for concern for Kovać as his side launch their quest for an elusive European title. Bellarabi’s red card was the result of a poor challenge on Rafinha, putting his foot onto the back of leg, leaving the Brazilian with ankle ligament damage that will keep him out for several weeks, leaving Kovać without any cover at full-back for Joshua Kimmich and David Alaba.
Uli Hoeneß, never shy of an opinion or two, did not hold back in his criticism of the challenge. He described it as “insane” and an “intentional assault,” for which he should be banned for three months. That was a typical overreaction from the club’s president and Bellarabi did apologise for the tackle after the game, but given it’s the third major injury the club have suffered in as many games, you can understand his frustration to an extent.
They had already lost Tolisso after his attempt to challenge Volland saw him tear his ACL, which rules the Frenchman ruled out for several months. Add to that Kingsley Coman, who is also out long-term after injuring his ankle in the opening game against Hoffenheim, leaving them reliant on the aging Robben and Franck Ribéry.
Whilst negotiating a Champions League group which also contains AEK Athens and Ajax should prove little obstacle, Bayern will be hoping that injury problems don’t hamper their attempt to progress through the knockout stages after Christmas, as it has done so often in recent years.
As for Leverkusen, it was a third defeat in three, following defeats to Borussia Mönchengladbach and Wolfsburg before the international break, not that they could have expected much else from the Allianz Arena.
“We’re in a difficult situation,” admitted coach Heiko Herrlich after the match, adding his team were low in confidence and had been “given a lesson” by the hosts. They play unbeaten Mainz next Sunday – a game which Lars Bender describes as “a cup final” – as they look to pick up their first Bundesliga points.
One glimmer of hope perhaps comes from the fact they are only one point worse off than they were at this stage last season, with the two defeats then including an identical result against Bayern. The second, though, had come at Mainz, although at least they will have home advantage against die Nullfünfer next week.
They do have a UEFA Europa League campaign to contend with as well this season though, and before hosting Mainz they have to travel to Bulgaria for Thursday night’s meeting with Ludogorets. They are going to have to find some inner strength to turnaround their awful start soon, or the pressure will continue to pile onto Herrlich despite his impressive first season in charge.
1 | Like Leverkusen, Schalke have started the season with three straight defeats, losing as die Werkself did on the opening day at Gladbach. They never really recovered from Matthias Ginter’s early opener, with Breel Embolo’s stunning stoppage time strike only coming after Patrick Herrmann had put the game beyond reasonable doubt for the Foals. The odds will be on a fourth defeat for Schalke next week – they host Bayern on Saturday night. Like Herrlich, Domenico Tedesco is battling against the early signs of second-season syndrome.
2 | Freiburg and Stuttgart had been the other two teams without a point at the start of the weekend, and their meeting in Sunday’s final game proved to be the match of the weekend. After Jérôme Gondorf gave Freiburg the early lead in the south west derby, Emiliano Insúa and Mario Gómez scored either side of half-time for Stuttgart. In a dramatic opening to the second half, Gondorf levelled again with a clever free-kick, only for Gómez to head Stuttgart back ahead. Luca Waldschmidt ensured a share of the points, although Freiburg finished with ten men after Pascal Stenzel saw a second yellow card.
3 | Borussia Dortmund continued life under Lucien Favre with a 3-1 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt, but it was far from free-flowing and only a late goal from Paco Alcácer, introduced from the bench, gave them any kind of comfort. Abdou Diallo’s first goal for the club put them ahead but it needed an equaliser from Sébastien Haller to wake up them after a dour second half display. Marius Wolf put them back ahead quickly before Alcácer’s intervention. Dortmund have shown great bounce-back-ability so far this season but need to learn to take the initiative more in games – even the 4-1 win over RB Leipzig on Matchday One came after conceding in the first minute.
4 | There was late drama aplenty in many of the other games. Reiss Nelson, on loan from Arsenal, equalised for Hoffenheim at Fortuna Düsseldorf, but the hosts won the game with a Dodi Lukebakio penalty. Yunus Malli and Admir Mehmedi both equalised for Wolfsburg after Ondrej Duda had scored what might have been the winner for Hertha in their 2-2 draw, whilst Alexandru Maxim scored to give Mainz a stoppage-time victory over Augsburg. Then on Sunday, Virgil Misidjan capped his debut from the bench to score an equaliser for Nürnberg at Werder Bremen.
By James Rees.