“At some point,” lamented Julian Weigl, “you just run out of strength.” For a long time, it looked as if a near-miracle was on the cards for Borussia Mönchengladbach. Bayern Munich, though, have been good at snuffing those out down the years and did again here There was an element of fairytale in the 18-year-old Mathys Tel stepping out of Harry Kane’s shadow to head in an 87th-minute winner from Joshua Kimmich’s corner.
As Weigl said, there are limits, and Bayern are masters at exploiting them. Tel’s goal was a sweet moment for him – particularly after he suffered racial abuse on social media after last month’s DFB Super Cup – but it was infuriating for Gerardo Seoane and his team, well drilled throughout only to lose the vital goal from a set piece as fatigue set in and concentration briefly waned.
Until then, it had looked like Gladbach’s hold over Bayern might have lasted through a tempestuous summer of change in the playing and coaching ranks alike. They had won six and lost only four of the last 12 Bundesliga meetings with Bayern before this weekend, not forgetting the 5-0 hammering Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern took at Borussia-Park in October 2021. When Ko Itakura flicked home Maxi Wöber’s left-sided delivery on the half-hour to give the hosts the lead, it felt as if the Gladbach-Bayern microclimate – when these two get together it feels in isolation as if it’s their late 1970s rivalry all over again – was enduring nicely.
While the current gap in resources is undeniable and Gladbach were only a week past a humbling from Leverkusen on their own patch, this was never easy for Bayern, who have their own issues. The champions needed this too after a calamitous close to the transfer window in which they came within touching distance of signing their longed-for world class defensive midfielder. They got the photos of João Palhinha in the kit, but they didn’t get the signature after Fulham failed to find a replacement. Kane may be the prize catch but despite all the positive conversations Thomas Tuchel had with prospective signings, Bayern ended up without the defensive midfielder that would satisfy their coach and with no replacement for Benjamin Pavard, who joined Inter this week. Their problems are relative, mind you, with Konrad Laimer’s second-half introduction bringing order to Tuchel’s team before Leroy Sané’s equaliser.
Yet here Gladbach were a touch unlucky, as opposed to a touch underprepared, which had been the theme of the fledgling season so far. Having been outclassed by Xabi Alonso’s men last week, the faithful had every right to fear the worst ahead of this. Being beaten late by Bayern after a performance of organisation, commitment and fortitude was a huge step on, and one which wouldn’t have been expected by many supporters before Saturday night’s Top-Spiel.
There were a few heroes of the hour – not least goalkeeper Moritz Nicolas, Seoane’s choice to deputise for newly appointed captain Jonas Omlin, who succumbed to a shoulder injury sustained in pre-season. Nicolas admitted afterwards that he was “more nervous than for a normal game” but was praised by his coach, saving his team on a handful of occasions (including one excellent stop from Sané) and exuding certainty on crosses. He may have to be relied on again for an extended period as Omlin may require surgery.
The 25-year-old Nicolas praised the experienced Tobias Sippel for helping him to prepare, which was in itself a feather in the cap of oft-criticised sporting director Roland Virkus, who was widely questioned for holding on to four senior goalkeepers this summer. It has quickly turned out to be a wise move.
Like many other aspects of Die Fohlen’s current state, it is a work in progress. The club and Virkus are clearly scarred from the close season exodus, which notably saw Marcus Thuram, Ramy Bensebaini and skipper Lars Stindl leave at the end of their contracts and thus not bring a cent of transfer income in between them. They are determined that their standout defender Nico Elvedi, who had looked set for a move to Wolves before Julen Lopetegui abruptly left his post, will not be the next of them. Elvedi is out of contract in July 2024 and though used as a late substitute here for his first minutes of the season, it has been suggested to him that he won’t be returning to the XI without first inking an extension. Elvedi’s post-match tone was a conciliatory one.
They could do with reincorporating him as this young team will need leaders. Weigl, the stand-in captain who might be wearing the armband a lot in the weeks and months to come, issued his own rallying cry. “It is certainly not a moment in which we’ll start to panic,” he stressed. “We are an extremely young team and have to find ourselves. Of course, one point [so far] is not enough, but … this game against Bayern showed a lot of positive things and also shows the path we want to take.”
It is not games like this one that will decide the fate of this season for Seoane’s side, but confrontations against Bayern always bring something special out of Gladbach. It is a zest they will need more of in the weeks to come.
If Bayern have a few questions to answer then Borussia Dortmund have many more, especially following their Friday night implosion that allowed newly promoted Heidenheim to take a first-ever Bundesliga point home from Signal Iduna Park having trailed 2-0 to the hosts inside 15 minutes. This was another clunky, unimaginative display, after which Hans-Joachim Watzke, Sebastian Kehl and coach Edin Terzic had a crisis summit which stretched beyond midnight. A Bild editorial on Sunday suggested both Terzic was “on probation” after poor starts to the campaign, with suggestions already that the shadow of the out-of-work Nagelsmann is already looming over Terzic.
There is a far better mood surrounding a former BVB coach, Marco Rose, whose Leipzig put away their bogey team Union on the short trip to Berlin, The irrepressible Xavi Simons opened the scoring with a goal of sublime quality, before Kevin Volland’s red card for an X-rated tackle on Mohamed Simakan all but settled the game, with substitute Benjamin Sesko scoring his first two Bundesliga goals on counter-attacks. “It was a very mature performance from us,” said Rose with some satisfaction, after Union’s ultras had observed the first 15 minutes in silence in the latest anti-Red Bull protest.
Above them Leverkusen are flying, maintaining their 100% record with a second-half shellacking of Darmstadt, who had fought back from a goal down to go into the break all square. Victor Boniface again shone with a brace though a long-range banger from another Gladbach escapee, Jonas Hofmann, was probably the standout.
Strikers dominated the weekend’s discourse, with Niclas Füllkrug making a late BVB debut as substitute (and his former side Werder roaring to a 4-0 win over Mainz without him), Eintracht Frankfurt needing a late equaliser from debutant Niels Nkounkou to save a draw against Köln after selling Randal Kolo Muani to PSG and Stuttgart’s Serhou Guirassy moving on to five goals already after his double in the 5-0 thrashing of Freiburg (VfB’s results so far after three games: 5-0, 1-5, 5-0).