It’s early October. It’s matchday seven in the Bundesliga. Borussia Dortmund beat Augsburg to reaffirm their position at the top of the table whilst Bayern Munich descend into crisis. It increasingly feels like this could finally be the year they reclaim top spot from the record champions. It isn’t. Bayern will find their saviour, Dortmund’s form will disintegrate, their new manager will soon be gone and normal service will soon be resumed.
This is not a prophecy about how the season will go from here. It is what happened last season. The parallels between then and now are obvious, although there are differences. Bayern have fallen to the depths of sixth-place now, but are still a point closer to Dortmund than then. By this stage they had also jettisoned Carlo Ancelotti whilst Niko Kovać remains in situ. Dortmund’s win over Augsburg came about very differently as well.
The game provided so many narratives. There was Augsburg almost holding on to a point against another of the Bundesliga’s top sides, and have even had all three. There was Mario and Felix Götze sharing a field and the older of the two marking his comeback after weeks of debate over his future with a vital goal. Jadon Sancho further justified his England call-up with another assist. Not to forget Paco Alcácer’s hat-trick.
This was simply though an incredible game, in what is turning out to be an incredible season. The impetus for Dortmund’s win, yet again, came from the bench. Ten of the seventeen points they have earned so far have come from losing positions and it seems in every game, no matter the competition, no matter the players chosen to start, it is the substitutes that Lucien Favre makes that turn the game in Dortmund’s favour.
They were still trailing to an Alfreð Finnbogason goal when, just before the hour mark, Favre unleashed Alcácer for a misfiring Maximilian Philipp. His impact was almost immediate, converting a Sancho cross, his seventh assist of the season (including one against Monaco in the week). Philipp Max, snubbed again Joachim Löw for October’s internationals, threw a spanner in the works after though to put Augsburg ahead again.
Raphaël Guerreiro had come on before that goal, but – surprise, surprise – he would set up the next Alcácer equaliser, with the Spaniard connecting with his dinked-in free-kick. The third man brought on by Favre, Götze, then put aside the constant talk about his apparent decline to put his side ahead for the first time in the game, an “outstanding” goal according to teammate Marco Reus.
This time though it seemed Dortmund wouldn’t get the victory when Michael Gregoritsch levelled the game again for die Fuggerstädter, however when Sergio Córdova gave away a free-kick in the fifth minute of stoppage time. “We were all hoping that’d he’d score,” said Reus after the game on Alcácer’s free-kick and he did just that, leaving Andreas Luthe static to put the seal an another thrilling Dortmund win, perhaps the most unlikely of the lot.
“Alcácer has been a very good transfer,” said Favre afterwards, stating the obvious, keen not to focus on the efforts of one player. His skipper was less restrained. “Paco was sensational at the end,” said Reus. “He comes off the bench scores three goals in 30 minutes. You don’t get better than that.”
Alcácer is already becoming a very important player for Dortmund and even though he has only made three substitute appearances for them in the league, he has six goals. Whilst he can’t be expected to maintain that kind of scoring rate, he is exactly the replacement that Dortmund needed for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, even if he is only on loan from Barcelona.
There are still reasons to be concerned. Right now, it feels like this could actually be their year. Sooner or later though, Dortmund’s bench are not going to be able to bail them out of trouble as it has so often this season. There’s going to be a game like this one, or the game against Bayer Leverkusen, where the other team is going to hold on. Or a game like the goalless draw in Hannover, where they just fall flat.
It will be up to Favre to get the team performing at the levels they are capable of more consistently, otherwise there is a real danger that they will drop off, just as they did under Peter Bosz last season after the defeat to RB Leipzig, after the October international break. They is also the nagging fear over the fitness of certain key players, most significantly Reus, who has pulled out of the German side with a seemingly, hopefully for him, minor knee problem.
If they can avoid the slumps and the injuries of seasons past, they could give Bayern a much closer run for their money this year – assuming Bayern find a way out of their own malice.
1 | Whilst the focus has been on Bayern since their 3-0 defeat to Borussia Mönchengladbach, it is natural that the Foals’ effort has been overlooked. This was just a fourth victory away at Bayern, although three have now come in this decade. “Gladbach scored three out of three chances,” admitted a frustrated Kovać after the game, but they had sensed a chance at the Allianz Arena and took it. Alassane Pléa and Lars Stindl scored in rare attacks in the first half and Patrick Herrmann catching out a static defence late on, despite a hint of handball. They defended excellently too, with Dieter Hecking praising “a very good, together team performance” at the end.
2 | Tayfun Korkut became the first managerial casualty of the Bundesliga season after a 3-1 defeat to Hannover left Stuttgart, with just five points from their first seven games, bottom of the table. They were also knocked out of the DFB-Pokal by Hansa Rostock. He had been handed a new contract in the summer after replacing Hannes Wolf and leading a surge up the table to an eventual seventh-place finish last season. “The lack of sporting development during this season, and the negative results have led us to take this step,” explained sporting director Michael Reschke in a club statement. Markus Weinzierl is among the early favourites to replace him.
3 | Nürnberg boss Michael Köllner said his side would learn their lesson from their 7-0 defeat to Dortmund during the ‘Englische Woche’, yet there was little sign of that as RB Leipzig put six past them on Sunday. Timo Werner scored a second brace of the season and could have had a hat-trick if Fabian Bredlow hadn’t saved his penalty soon after he made it 6-0. Der Clubwere guilty of defending that wouldn’t be suffice in the 3. Liga, with Enrico Valentino particularly guilty of individual mistakes leading to goals. Köllner again emphasised the need to learn from what happened, adding they would use to upcoming break to “become more mature and confident in our game.”
4 | Schalke’s season is finally up and running, with victories over Mainz last weekend and Lokomotiv Moscow in the Champions League followed up by a 2-0 success at Fortuna Düsseldorf. Weston McKennie has been one of their most impressive players this season and he followed up his first goal for the club in midweek with a first Bundesliga strike to give them the lead here. “It’s such an amazing feeling,” he said afterwards, but he added that he wasn’t going to be “carried away” because of his goals though. “I will remain grounded and I know that I have a lot more work to do.”
By James Rees.