As per usual action in Germany’s top-flight commenced on the Friday, and for the second week in succession Bayern Munich got things under way. Unfortunately for Louis van Gaal, they didn’t quite gets things all their own way.
Much to the delight of a rapturous home-crowd in Kaiserslautern, the 2009/10 2. Bundesliga champions defeated the illustrious treble-winners by a comfortable two-goal margin.
There was nothing particularly brilliant or revolutionary about how Marco Kurz and his team achieved the feat – the three points were a testimony to hard-work and lethargic Bavarian visitors.
Bayern dominated possession, but met a side willing to sit back and press with gusto in their own-half. Therefore, Kaiserslautern old-boy Miroslav Klose & co. found openings difficult to come by.
Adam Nemec was cleverly stationed in Bastian Schweinsteiger’s shadow, stifling the quarterback’s space. Mark van Bommel sought territory further upfield, though this rendered Bayern susceptible to the counter-attack.
Such initiatives weren’t usually begun with an abundance of grace – a Rodnei hoof or panicky Leon Jessen punt feeding Ivo Iličević or Srđan Lakić to get on their bikes and harry the highly-stood, calamitous visiting centre-backs.
Two quick goals just after the half-hour mark left Bayern with an insurmountable workload, and the home-side’s high-octane midfield spoilers kept Franck Ribéry and Thomas Müller disparagingly quiet.
The Champions League silver-medallists weren’t the only Goliath to meet their match in David at the weekend – over in Rome, the Giallorossi were held to a 0-0 stalemate by newly promoted minnows Cesena.
Cesena were simply joyous to watch, and made a side who only lost the Scudetto on the final day of last season look ordinary.
For every imagination-deprived scoop over to Mirko Vučinić and misplaced Daniele De Rossi long-diagonal, the plucky visitors had incessant energy-laden attacks that left the red-shirted XI red-faced.
Yuto Nagatomo and Luca Ceccarelli flicked V-signs at the concept of caution, overlapping with or without the ball so regularly that Roma’s full-backs weren’t able to enter the game.
The wonderfully direct, potent and tricky Emanuele Giaccherini kept Marco Cassetti dizzier than Tommy Roe and Vic Reeves combined: further-back, Maxi Pellegrino and Steve von Bergen formed an impenetrable wall.
Ezequiel Schelotto made up for the sluggish Erjon Bogdani by making clever darts infield, and his central-attacking movements complemented the timed bursts of Stephen Appiah.
Alas, they were equals in just a sole respect – an inability to convert chances. Roma’s final-balls were more incisive, but tended to meet heroic last-ditch defending; Cesena just don’t possess a cutting-edge.
Hoffenheim’s visit to St Pauli also seemed destined to finish with a 0-0 scoreline. However, late lapses of concentration allowed Dietmar Hopp’s capitalistic wank-rag to steal three points from the loveable lefties.
Playing styles were marked in contrast during this no-frills Saturday afternoon encounter. Recently promoted St. Pauli were as rugged, direct, and energetic as you’d expect, but the class of Hoffe’s mercenaries told.
It was a bit kick n’ rush from the Hamburg-based outfit, though it’s difficult to criticise a team so willing to commit numbers to attack – each brown-shirted body was box-to-box!
Guided by the crusading Vedad Ibišević, Ralf Rangnick’s midfield incorporated a hungry ghoster (Tobias Weis), a deep playmaker (Sejad Salihović), and two dribbling forward-cum-wingers (Demba Ba, Peniel Mlapa).
The latter pair, side-switching with regularity, troubled Carlos Zambrano. The centre-back and the no-nonsense defensive-midfielders often had to cover Carsten Rothenbach, and the Peruvian was particularly haphazard.
Hoffenheim’s goal came from a set-piece, and it was apt that a tactical move resulted in the goal. The visitors had a coherent, floor-based and patient gameplan; enacted with the right measure of haste and thought.
A healthy dose of the former inspired Salihović’s left-footed corner to the near post where Isaac Vorsah pounced on a fumble. Both sides marking had been poor all game, and Rothenbach’s inattentiveness facilitated the loss of a point.
There won’t be many scorelines this season that catch the eye quite like Mönchengladbach’s 6-3 win away at Leverkusen on Michael Ballack’s home – second – debut.
The home-side were far too ponderous in possession, plodding and cumbersome when run at, and failed to establish any sort of penetrating patterns.
Counter-attack was the mantra for Michael Frontzeck’s side, and on another day they might have scored a mere goal or two – Sunday was simply one of those brilliant days where everything went their way.
Leverkusen’s possession was permeated with greater imagination, yet for sheer ruthlessness, force, and acceleration, Mönchengladbach demonstrated the key ingredient their opponents lacked.
Still, you make your own luck, and the vision of Juan Arango, confidence, pace and class of youth (Marco Reus), and two non-stop runners (Mo Idrissou, Michael Bradley) made for a lethal cocktail.
Stefan Kießling’s movement was as exceptional as ever, but he found an equal in Dante. Renato Augusto and Tranquillo Barnetta were lifeless on the flanks, and unable to concoct in a congested centre.
Michael Ballack was stuck ineffectively deep, while the prowling Arturo Vidal disliked coming up against a similarly ferocious midfield-pairing – one that was often three-pronged.
Patrick Hermann balanced tucking in and joining/making the attacks to great effect. His two goals were testament to a mature performance filled with energy, vision and notable composure.
In contrast to the match at Dortmund last week where Gonzalo Castro was the overlapping full-back, Jupp Heynckes decided to give Michal Kadlec freedom in order to exploit Mönchengladbach’s clumsier right-side of defence.
However, this meant Gladbach counter-attacks came down that right-flank, exposing Sami Hyypiä’s paucity of pace and agility – not aided by the fact Ballack can’t cover ground in quite the way he used to.
Another home team who paid for an odd lust to the centre-circle and defensive mishaps were Stuttgart. Borussia Dortmund put a 2-0 opening-day loss behind them with a commanding 3-1 victory at a vociferous Neckarstadion.
The shape to Christian Gross’s side was staggeringly inept – schoolboy-esque in its pack-chasing mentality, and playing right into the hands of Jurgen Klopp’s width-endowed left-flank.
Although the line-up matched the one that suffered defeat to Leverkusen, Kevin Großkreutz and Mario Götze were instead planted on opposite flanks.
The actions of each remained unchanged though – Götze weaving sideways and looking to use his right-foot for the movement of Shinji Kagawa, with fellow youngster Großkreutz staying on the chalk.
With Timo Gebhart effectively the third-forward and Khalid Boulahrouz looking to nullify Großkreutz’s pace by staying deep alongside the centre-backs, Großkreutz and Marcel Schmelzer ran the show.
Dortmund played with discipline, confidence, swagger and inherent understanding. The centre-backs showed class and brass; attributes matched by Serdar Tasci, albeit spoilt by George Niedermeier.
Part of Stuttgart’s link-up problem was the fact Cacau dropped too deep into the already congested centre-midfield, and the only natural width came via Cristian Molinaro – nominally at left-back.
Lastly, I wrapped up my weekend with Napoli’s visit to Florence. The encounter finished in a 1-1 score-draw, and for what felt like the umpteenth time of the weekend, the visitors were more impressive.
Fiorentina deployed two playmakers – Riccardo Montolivo and his Steven Gerrard-esque long-diagonals from deep, plus new signing Gaetano D’Agostino in a support-striker role.
Save for D’Agostino’s natural midfield-inclination, wingers on either side and a bulldog in centre-midfield (Cristiano Zanetti) gave Fiorentina – now under Siniša Mihajlović’s jurisdiction – an air of Englishness.
Napoli’s 3-4-2-1 was as resplendent as it was in 2009/10, the continuity of this system enabling them to dominate play in the confident manner they did.
Edison Cavani and Alberto Gilardino both troubled the oppositional centre-backs with lightening-quick movement, but it was the former who more comfortably located his colleagues.
Walter Gargano was a creative fulcrum from deep and further upfield; accompanying imagination with crunching tackles. Ezequiel Lavezzi may be Paul Scholes-like in the tackle, but the Argentine was productive behind Cavani.
Lavezzi was aided by the outstanding delivery and timed-overlaps of Andrea Dossena – who in turn benefited from swashbuckling right-back Lorenzo De Silvestri’s forays forward.
Although De Silvestri didn’t fully shirk his defensive responsibilities, he received little assistance from Marco Marchionni: his tendency to carry/lose the ball across the box-edge allowed Napoli to isolate Fiorentina’s right-back.
On the other channel, Juan Manuel Vargas only awoke when his team were a goal down. Suddenly, his direct runs to the corner-flag drew corners or created crossing opportunities – the visiting defenders suddenly looked very ordinary.
It wasn’t until the second-half that Fiorentina took one of their many openings – D’Agostino burying with aplomb after a superb hold-up and assist by Italian international Gilardino.
Throughout it was apparent that the pair were at the start of a relationship – the recent purchase from Udinese looked uncertain as to where exactly he should busy himself on the pitch.
His class on the ball was plain for all to see, but Napoli found his dallies in and around the box defendable. ASAP, Mihajlović must solve how to utilise both he and Montolivo with the pair trying to engineer from similar areas.