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Bundesliga Review – Week 4

In a spirited contest at the Red Bull Arena on Saturday evening, the points would ultimately be shared, in a tie that – despite it only being September – could very well set the tone for the title race to follow. It was a game that hinged on moments and turning points. Two penalty appeals, one successful, one overturned. Two prolific forwards, one on the scoresheet, the other, agonisingly close to joining him. As the full-time whistle was blown, the Bavarians may well have reflected on an opportunity missed. Afterall, they had the chance to inflict an early, potentially fatal blow to the ludicrous notion of an RB Leipzig title challenge. The fact that they didn’t, however, will have fans in both North-Rhine Westphalia and Saxony dreaming of what might be in eight months time.

The champions looked bright from the start, setting out seemingly to get their noses in front, as to to deny their rivals the chance to counter attack as they love to do. Loose possession from Germany’s new starting Right-back – Lukas Klostermann, presented Bayern Munich with a counter opportunity of their own, with Robert Lewandowski played through on goal just three minutes in.

Predictably, he made no mistake with the finish. It was the sort of start that Julian Nagelsmann’s team would have been dreading, allowing Bayern to play the game as they wished – keeping the ball, slowing the tempo, and denying Leipzig of any space in behind. Bayern’s first-half performance was remarkably dominant, particularly for an away game, as they controlled the match with 75% possession in the first period. On that evidence alone, predictions from many, that RB could actually mount a title tilt this year, were beginning to look rather foolish. That was, until two penalty incidents flipped the game on its head.

With 10 minutes to go until the break, Bayern’s deputy left back, Lucas Hernandez – playing after David Alaba sustained an injury in the warm up – attempted a cross just inside the RB Leipzig penalty box. Marcel Sabitzer was quick to close him down, but in real time, it seemed as if the Austrian’s momentum had taken Hernandez out after the ball was played. A penalty was then awarded, only for the decision to be deferred to VAR. And, in a rare moment of praise for the video system, in slow motion, the screen appeared to show that there was very little contact between Sabitzer and Hernandez. And thus, it was overturned, to Robert Lewandowski’s dismay.

In a match of turning points, this was possibly the biggest, as on the stroke of half-time – in a cruelly ironic fashion, Lucas brought down Yussuf Poulsen inside the area. Penalty given – and this time, it stood. Up stepped the in-form Emil Forsberg, who made no mistake from the spot. 1-1 at half time, to Bayern’s bemusement.

Bayern Munich’s first half performance was perhaps their finest outing so far this season, a sentiment that Niko Kovac echoed in his post-match press conference saying: “We played a sensational first half… it was our best performance so far.”The second period however, would outline Bayern’s weakness’, and will possibly give further hope to the likes of RB and Borussia Dortmund, attempting to derail their domestic dominance.

Far from the dominant passing of the first half, the second 45 was an open, often frantic affair. Bayern suddenly appeared vulnerable once more to the counter, with Timo Werner getting in behind the Bayern defence on two occasions, but was ultimately unable to convert to Kovac’s relief. It was what Leipzig had craved from the first minute, an open affair that would allow them to potentially exploit Bayern’s often laborious defence.

The second half will no doubt give hope to Nagelsmann that his side can at least hang with the best sides, even if Bayern arguably should have scored late on with Tolisso and Sule squandering opportunities. Once again, in a game epitomised by moments, Bayern will just hope they don’t rue missed opportunities further down the line, as just a few hours prior, Dortmund were bouncing back from their East German foray, with a devastatingly clinical performance back on home turf.

Talking Points

1 | For Lucien Favre and Borussia Dortmund, the international break appeared to have arrived at just the right time. Tactically, Favre was under the microscope, while defeat at Union Berlin three weeks earlier, highlighted a worrying dependency of Sancho, alongside some glaring defence frailties. What they needed therefore, was a homecoming match, against another side with defensive frailties, to provide a much-needed confidence boost – and that’s just what they got.

For all that Dortmund will leak goals this season, when their attack is in full flow – confident and free flowing, they are a joy to behold. The slick interplay and movement, combined often with deadly finishing, makes them incredibly watchable. At times they reminiscent of Keegan’s Newcastle, with an abundance of ways to hurt the opposition defensively, all of which can be undone in a matter of minutes by shoddy work at the other end of the pitch.

That wasn’t the case this weekend however, as a rare clean sheet was achieved in a thoroughly dominant performance. Paco Alcacer was deadly, adding another to his tally, while Jaden Sancho once again shone at the Westfalenstadion, with a pair of assists. Marco Reus emphasised his importance to the side with a brace of his own, while Raphael Guerreiro – very much the forgotten man amongst Dortmund’s array of attacking options, rounding off the score in a 4-0 win.

The phrase ‘levels’ is often levied at sport teams when the reality of a gulf in quality becomes obvious. For Bayer Leverkusen, such a phrase seems particularly apt to describe their quality, in relation to their nearest rivals. As Leverkusen prepare to return to the Champions League this week, you could be forgiven for thinking that the gap between themselves and their fellow top four rivals was a relatively small one. On this evidence however, Bayer remain a long way off Bayern, Dortmund and even RB, as the legitimacy of each sides title aspirations begins to look a whole lot clearer.

2 | It was a tough day for the newly promoted sides, with all three losing at home to clubs with European aspirations of their own this season. The standout fixture was Sunday afternoons North-Rhine Westphalian derby between Paderborn and Schalke. With both sides off to a shaky start, a win either way felt especially pressing. A 5-1 away victory for Schalke, thanks in part to a sensational performance from Amine Harit, could very well be a pivotal win for David Wagner’s tenure at the club, as the side builds on last matchday’s triumph over Hertha.

FC Koln meanwhile, were undone by at early Plea goal, falling 1-0 to top four chasing Borussia Monchengladbach, as Marco Rose’s men recover well from a home defeat to RB Leipzig before the international break. It was a difficult weekend for Union Berlin too, who couldn’t repeat another special home win, losing to 2-1 to Werder Bremen, in a game that saw both sides have a man dismissed.

3 | Arguably, the weekends biggest victors were SC Freiburg and Augsburg, with both sides winning big away at Hoffenheim and Frankfurt respectively. Victory for Freiburg leaves them third in the Bundesliga table, ahead of a clash at home to Augsburg next weekend. Mainz meanwhile recorded their first win of the season on Saturday, with a crucial 2-1 win over Hertha, as the Berliners fall to their third successive loss since their opening day draw at the Allianz. And finally, points were shared in Dusseldorf as Fortuna and Wolfsburg played out an entertaining draw, with Wout Weghorst’s third goal of the season salvaging a point for the travelling side.

4 | It may only be the fourth matchday of the Bundesliga season, but this weekend’s action has already proceeded to validate many pre-season predictions. As many anticipated, Bayern are still the team to beat, with two wins and two draws a modest, yet fairly impressive show of what to come, especially in lights of the games they’ve played. Dortmund continue to demonstrate their strength and evolution as a side – as, even if they do fall just short again this year, they win endeavour to entertain the watching public as they do so, with exciting attacking talent on display.

And RB Leipzig, still very much the outsiders tip for the Bundesliga title, hauled themselves off the canvas, putting in a second-half performance that just might have some of their fans believing in the improbable. Can they dethrone Bayern? Perhaps not, but from a psychological point of view, Leipzig’s second half revival will surely instil belief in the squad – a squad that will only improve tactically under Nagelsmann’s tutelage. Werner’s goal scoring exploits, surprisingly absent this weekend, could take them as close to silverware as they’ve ever been.

Unfortunately for RB fans, Bayern still possess their own prolific goal scorer, whose powers don’t appear to be on the wane just yet. For all the damage that Alcacer and Werner will inflict this season, so long as Bayern hold on to Lewandowski, they posses their own deadly marksman, capable of stifling rival opposition.

The race for the golden boot is well under way, but after a fascinating weekend of Bundesliga action, a genuine title race is now threatening to develop, with just two points separating the 3 main challengers. Don’t write anyone off just let.

By Tom Fenton.

 

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