Lewandowski’s and Haaland’s duel for supremacy a fitting tribute to Müller | Andy Brassell
The Bundesliga never does things quietly. It returned with – at least some – supporters in the stands in its typical character of cut, thrust and confusion, but there was some clarity amid the mayhem. On a weekend which ended with German football in mourning at the passing of the legendary Gerd Müller, the elite centre-forwards from the current competition showed they are pulling out all the stops to be worthy successors.
Robert Lewandowski, whose snappily taken equaliser in the league’s curtain-raiser on Friday night helped Bayern Munich to weather the early storm from the hosts Borussia Mönchengladbach, had already shown his respect for Müller at the end of the last campaign. When Bayern’s current No 9 equalled Der Bomber’s season Bundesliga goal record of 40 from 1971-72 on the penultimate day of the season at Freiburg, he lifted his jersey to reveal a T-shirt of a vintage stencilled image of a mop-topped Müller, annotated with the words “4ever Gerd”. He subsequently met Müller’s wife Uschi in the club’s museum to pass on his gratitude and good wishes.
When Lewandowski beat the record with his late goal on the season’s final day against Augsburg, it was celebrated with unfettered joy – and it was the ultimate nod to Müller’s legacy. That 40-goal mark was simply something that people believed would never be beaten, which is why it meant (and means) so much to their current No 9.
The 22 goals that Lewandowski has scored – and celebrated with no timidity – against Borussia Dortmund since leaving the club in 2014 have made their contribution to his Bayern numbers, and few would bet against him adding to that in the Super Cup at Signal Iduna Park on Tuesday night, but perhaps for once he won’t be the main attraction. If Lewandowski came through the front door of the party on Friday night, Erling Haaland drove straight through the venue and parked his Bentley in its swimming pool on Saturday evening.
The Norwegian was the main architect behind BVB’s resounding and thrilling 5-2 win against Eintracht Frankfurt on Marco Rose’s debut as coach, scoring twice, providing two assists and reminding the world – in the words of the captain, Marco Reus – that he is an “incredible package” of skill, hunger and stratospheric improvement.
Casual watchers of Dortmund and Bundesliga will look at the numbers, 62 goals in 61 games for the club, and think Haaland arrived as he is now. In fact the growth of his all-round game, which frustrated his teammates at the beginning and is polished beyond recognition 18 months later, is quite remarkable. We do, in the words of Freddie Röckenhaus of Süddeutsche Zeitung, “gradually have to realise that he is just redefining the entire position of the centre-forward with his incredible force”. The performance on Saturday would be defining for most strikers. For Haaland, we are coming to expect the same again next week.
Lewandowski and Haaland have similar, if not quite identical roles in their teams’ respective seasons. Keep us afloat while we get our bearings, and then carry on doing what you’re doing as we work out the details. The initial impressions are that the Poland striker might do some more heavy lifting early on.
Bayern started badly in Gladbach, going a goal down to Alessane Pléa’s strike with their high line all at sea, and they were fortunate to escape a couple of unrequited penalty appeals involving Dayot Upamecano, especially when the Bayern debutant tangled with Marcus Thuram. For the new coach, Julian Nagelsmann, getting his ideas across will take time. “We haven’t had a lot of training sessions after the Euros,” he said on Monday morning, “and it’s not that easy, and we won’t have many in the next few weeks, so we just have to work with video.”
Haaland is in transcendent form (perhaps helped by Norway missing the European Championship), but he has the benefit of a renewed Reus with him. Haaland laid on the opener against Eintracht for Reus, who then provided his second. The captain’s difficult decision to sit out the Euro 2020 finals already looks like paying off. “Marco had an excellent pre-season,” Rose said on Monday, “and that’s been important for his mindset. He’s proactive and he can be a No 10, play on the wing, he is good on one-on-ones, and he assists and scores.”
There is no pretending for now, though, that it’s not all about Haaland, a man whose shadow is so mighty it covers Dortmund’s patchwork defence. “There was not even one second where we thought about selling him,” the club’s former player and sporting director-to-be Sebastian Kehl told journalists on Sunday morning. “We’re ambitious, and Erling makes the difference. We’re convinced that he will help us to reach our goals.”
Lewandowski will doubtless have a response on Tuesday, but we can justifiably hope for a back-and-forth to fire this new season.
The passing of Gerd Müller, confirmed by Bayern on Sunday morning, was described by the chairman Herbert Hainer as “a sad, black day for FC Bayern and all its fans”. While it will be acknowledged on Tuesday night at the Super Cup, Bayern have communicated they are working on a definitive tribute. The club’s manager, Nagelsman, described Müller with a smile a Monday morning as the scorer of “so many brilliant, and sometimes weird, goals”.
Last season’s runners-up Leipzig fell to a surprise 1-0 defeat at Mainz, despite the presence of their new forward André Silva. Nordi Mukiele’s sliced clearance (“it was unlucky”, suggested the new coach Jesse Marsch) gifted a simple winner to Moussa Niakhaté and the home side defended sturdily afterwards in a heroic performance. It had been a turbulent week for Mainz after Karim Onisiwo tested positive for Covid-19 and a further seven players were ruled out by mandatory quarantine. “It is certainly not a fair sporting competition,” the Mainz executive manager, Christian Heidel, said, adding that protocols set out at the beginning of the pandemic need updating to stop similar situations occurring. Either way coach Bo Svensson, who has turned the team around since arriving in January, deserved to flex his biceps in front of the main stand.
It was a great start for Köln and Steffen Baumgart, the flat-capped new coach who already has the locals (and presumably Hennes) eating out of his hand. After a shaky start against Hertha and going a goal down to Stevan Jovetić’s debut opener, his side made a stirring comeback in front of a delighted crowd of 16,500 thanks to a goal by the renewed Anthony Modeste and a Florian Kainz double. “When Florian scores a header,” said a delighted Baumgart, “then you know things are going right.”
The DFL marked a new milestone in appointing its first female chief executive officer, Donata Hopfen, who will replace Christian Seifert from 1 January in one of the key posts in the German game. “The Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 enjoy an excellent reputation worldwide, as does the DFL,” the 2014 German Media Woman of The Year said. “This must be maintained against the backdrop of technological, societal and media changes relating to football – while at the same time moving forward in an innovative way.”