You couldn’t say you weren’t warned. A flurry of goals. Lead changes. Villains turned heroes. A controversial winner. Jude Bellingham catching a pint of beer thrown at Erling Haaland. Yes, all the chaos we expect when Bayer Leverkusen face Borussia Dortmund came to pass, and then some, on Saturday afternoon.
BVB’s Twitter account had attempted to light the blue touch paper before the game, pointing out that 43 goals had been scored in the past nine games between the teams. It turned out their suggestion was a little on the conservative side. On a weekend when Bayern Munich flexed their muscles at the home of RB Leipzig, the Bundesliga would have been forgiven for looking around elsewhere for a potential challenger at the top for the Rekordmeister.
Whether they would have found that at the BayArena is open to question. There was high entertainment, great possibility but also a more than nagging doubt over whether either of these teams have the business heads to trouble Bayern when it comes to the crunch. The understatement in Rudi Völler’s analysis that “we made one or two mistakes too many” hung in the air. His Leverkusen side had dazzled for a large portion of the game, especially when Florian Wirtz shone early on, giving his team the lead with a deliciously nonchalant finish and running the show.
The 18-year-old is a beacon of hope for what they could become, an absolute natural whose character is already distinctive enough to transcend the lazy typecasting in some quarters that has him as Kai Havertz’s successor. Wirtz became the youngest player to reach eight Bundesliga goals, 190 days younger than Jadon Sancho. He was also went past Havertz as the youngest to nine assists – by one day – when laying on the second for Patrik Schick after another former Werkself prodigy, Julian Brandt, carelessly lost the ball.
These numbers, though, feel a clumsy way of reaching for a definition of Wirtz’s magic. Let’s just settle for saying he is an absolute delight to watch. Getting lost in the beauty of this game, rather than picking over the medium to long-term implications, felt just fine. “It was a great game,” Leverkusen coach Gerardo Seoane said, “and that’s why we love the sport.”
Wirtz’s goal, Schick’s typically confident strike and even Moussa Diaby’s sweep home from the edge of the area with his right foot after initially kicking fresh air with his usually reliable left were all to be savoured. Seoane has already made Leverkusen must-watch, but he conceded “it’s very annoying when you lead three times and end up empty-handed”.
The Dortmund camp were more overtly piqued and for different reasons. They had reason for satisfaction after coming back from a deficit three times to winbut Marco Rose, on his 45th birthday, told Sky of how angry he was about the three goals onceded. The captain, Marco Reus, who won the penalty Haaland converted to win the game, much to Leverkusen’s chagrin, betrayed a degree of early-season exasperation in noting “we can’t always score three or four goals” to win games.
The sense of defiance was clear not just in that refusal to quit, with Brandt rattling in a second equaliser to atone for his early faux pas, or in Raphaël Guerreiro’s spectacular free-kick to make it 3-3. It was in the celebrations from Haaland and his teammates that followed the winner, when the beer cups rained down and Bellingham caught one and chanced a swig – “my first beer”.
“I’ve had a word with him about that,” said the Dortmund general manager, Sebastian Kehl, recognising the “emotion” of the moment, a feeling that translated into more spikiness later. The Bayern sporting director, Hasan Salihamidzic, stirred the pot by telling Sky 90 he thought it was extraordinary Reus had left the Germany squad early to rest a sore knee (as pre-agreed with Hansi Flick) only to play here. Salihamidzic’s opposite number, Michael Zorc, simply invited him to “shut up” in response.
If BVB are not able to keep pace with Bayern, it is already clear why, with their defensive shape – rather than just the defence itself, even given the late panic signing of Marin Pongracic on loan from Wolfsburg, who made his debuton Saturday – a big problem in their worst defensive start to a season since 1991-92. Yet the one question guaranteed to grind Dortmund gears last season, of their fortitude, is less likely to be asked now.
Borrowing a favourite phrase of Jürgen Klopp, Bild’s Walter M Straten suggested “a mentality monster is growing from what was a mentality mouse”. This was, as Bellingham suggested on Twitter, “the kind of match” that last season “we would lose”.
If enjoying the spectacle, not assessing the long-term, felt like the order of the day, it was not a perspective shared by Dortmunders.
Talking points and results
He was on the receiving end of a few boos as he made his way to the touchline, but Julian Nagelsmann had as tranquil a return to Leipzig as he could have imagined. “I’ve always felt at home here,” he said. “Even today.” Bayern were well in control after Robert Lewandowski gave them an early lead from the penalty spot and though Jesse Marsch’s team showed plenty of fight, the second-half introduction of Jamal Musiala – described as “extraordinary” by Nagelsmann – accelerated the game’s denouement as he scored and set up Leroy Sané in the blink of an eye. Thomas Müller even wryly looked forward to the point where Musiala takes his starting place. “He can have it someday,” he said, smiling.
Wolfsburg remain top of the tree with a 100% record after four games (a club record), but it wasn’t easy at Greuther Fürth, where Koen Casteels’s magnificent late save from Dickson Abiama preserved the lead given to them by Lukas Nmecha before Wout Weghorst made it safe with a penalty. The resolve of Mark van Bommel’s team is clear – “Fürth tried everything to break us,” said Maximilian Arnold, “but we accepted the fight” – and they have an opportunity to start well in the Champions League this week as they host vulnerable opponents in Lille, the off-key French champions.
Mainz make up the top four, again underlining their rise under Bo Svensson with a polished performance in a 2-0 win at Hoffenheim. It was a third clean sheet of the seasonwith the only concern the loss of their captain, Moussa Niakhaté, to injury. Given the start of their campaign was thrown into chaos by a Covid outbreak, it is some achievement.
Hertha finally got their first points of the season, winning at Bochum on the back of a number of changes – but thanks to a clinical edge, rather than sweeping brilliance, with Suat Serdar’s double before half-time giving them control of the game. One of the new boys, French striker Myziane Maolida, sealed the deal with a solo goal after Simon Zoller pulled one back for the hosts in the 78th minute. It was Hertha’s first shot of the second half.