Bochum celebrate their Bundesliga return by beating Mainz in style | Andy Brassell
They streamed down the streets in blue and white, gravitating to the Castroper Strasse where trams drop right outside the Ruhrstadion and the smell of grilling sausages hits you as soon as the double doors open. “The euphoria was palpable throughout the city,” said Thomas Reis. They had waited for this, and how they deserved it.
Bochum is a city of 365,000 people hiding in plain sight in football’s landscape, in the German game’s most teeming region. On a wider scale, VfL Bochum are destined to be the forgotten of North Rhine-Westphalia, squeezed into the space between the bigger and brasher Borussia Dortmund to the east and Schalke to the west. Not on Saturday, though. This was their day, a day that they’d been waiting for not just since their promotion and title win at the end of a season in which they were again treated by many as an afterthought to Hamburg’s latest failure to return to the big time.
They’d been waiting for this for over 11 years, since their last go at the top flight, and they were going to celebrate and make the most of it. Reis understood, with the coach having played 197 times for the club in an eight-year spell here. He wants his team to be brave and proud. “We don’t have to make ourselves smaller than we are,” he told journalists in the club’s modest press room after the game. “We have heart, and we have courage. If we play like we did against Mainz, we’ll get the points we need.”
For Mainz, who have improved dramatically under Bo Svensson and played with enough soul of their own to defeat fancied Leipzig last week, it was their turn to be the support act. Bochum were seizing their moment and did so in spectacular style to take the lead, when Gerrit Holtmann dribbled in from the left, skipped around a bevy of defenders and finally, improbably, poked the ball under Robin Zentner for a Lionel Messi-esque goal, worth every one of those 11 years’ wait. The tannoy announcer feverishly proclaimed it as the “Tor des Jahres” – goal of the year – though Holtmann himself admitted it was the result of not having the confidence to shoot from further out.
The richly talented Holtmann, binned by Werder Bremen’s academy as a teenager for not pulling his weight in training and who didn’t quite make the grade at Mainz, is representative of this side. A German under-20 international who now plays for the Philippines having qualified through his mother, he is eager to grasp his chance. As is Sebastian Polter, the scorer of the second – on debut – to clinch the win. Once of QPR and scorer of the first top-flight Berlin derby winner for Union in 2019 before later leaving the club in acrimony, Polter has been brought back from exile at Fortuna Sittard to have another crack at the Bundesliga.
The Ruhrstadion is full of surprises, from the pillars celebrating club legends like Stefan Kuntz and Hermann Gerland to colourful supporters like filmmaker Gerrit Starczewski and the unmistakeable VfL Jesus. Reis will hope his punchy side can continue to catch the Bundesliga off guard for a few months yet.
Bayern Munich paid emotional tribute to the great Gerd Müller ahead of their first home game of the season against Köln, led by chairman Herbert Hainer and his predecessor (and Müller’s former teammate) Uli Hoeness. A visibly moved Hoeness praised the former striker’s contribution to Bayern’s rise and his widow Uschi for nursing him through his final years. “We will miss you very much,” Hoeness said, “and we will never forget you.”
On the field, Bayern followed up their midweek Super Cup victory over Borussia Dortmund with a maiden Bundesliga win under Julian Nagelsmann, but they struggled against a promising Köln, who made a game of it by scoring twice in three second-half minutes to come back from 2-0 down. Serge Gnabry’s thunderous winner sealed the win, but eyes were on the wide players, with Leroy Sané whistled by many of the 20,000 present, to Nagelsmann’s displeasure (“it is of little use”), and his difficulties underlined by the huge impact of Jamal Musiala, hardly a like-for-like swap but who immediately shone and created the opener for Robert Lewandowski. There was more good news on Monday morning with the announcement that Joshua Kimmich has, as expected, extended his contract to 2025.
Bayern’s win compounded a first league slip-up (and a second straight reverse) for Dortmund, who were blindsided by Vincenzo Grifo’s brilliant early free-kick at Freiburg and were sloppy and listless afterwards, with Erling Haaland and Marco Reus both failing to make much of an impact as Jude Bellingham ploughed a lone furrow in midfield. “We still need a little time and patience,” said Sebastian Kehl, with Mats Hummels, Emre Can and Raphaël Guerreiro making quicker than ideal returns as substitutes. Marco Rose, on the other hand, showed post-match irritation, chiding a journalist for a “simplistic” question on whether the switch to 4-4-2 had unbalanced his team.
Leipzig and Jesse Marsch have lift-off after their poor opening showing at Mainz, mainly thanks to a dazzling (and long-awaited) full debut from Dominik Szoboszlai, who scored twice from range in a resounding 4-0 win over Stuttgart. André Silva also got off the mark with a late penalty, having already laid one on for Emil Forsberg. “His talent is extraordinary,” Marsch said of Szoboszlai, who he worked with at Salzburg. “He’s not quite at 100 percent yet, so there is still plenty of room for improvement.” That’s a frightening thought for Leipzig’s rivals.
For Stuttgart, everything that could have gone wrong did and a shoulder injury to Sasa Kalajdzić topped it off, with the Austrian needing surgery and unlikely to be back much before the end of the year, according to the club.
Borussia Mönchengladbach knew it wasn’t their day at Leverkusen from the third minute, when Mitchell Bakker’s long-range effort hit the post and went in off goalkeeper Yann Sommer to give the hosts the lead. Sommer, after a great Euros, capped a forgettable game in erring on Nadiem Amiri’s fourth, with Moussa Diaby shining for Die Werkself in between. “I felt a great energy,” said new coach Gerardo Seaone, already making an impact.
Wolfsburg’s week started badly as their expulsion from the Pokal was confirmed, after the substitute farrago at Preußen Münster (see last week’s column), but they recovered well to win at Hertha on Saturday despite undeservedly going a goal down to a Dodi Lukebakio penalty. Lukas Nmecha, signed from Manchester City, rattled in a late winner, and Sunday’s confirmation of the €12 million arrival of striker Luca Waldschmidt from Benfica gave Mark van Bommel another timely boost.
Hertha, meanwhile, have started the season with successive defeats and though the latest tranche of funding from major investor Lars Windhorst arrived on time a few days ago, the squad needs work – and speculation continues over the future of Matheus Cunha, left out of the group to face Wolfsburg. “If he is ready to work for the team again,” said coach Pal Dardai, “then he can play again.”