Bundesliga Round-Up: Who impressed on football’s return?
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
Football finally returned this weekend, although not quite how we know it. We certainly didn’t get the product we left behind prior to this pandemic, with the fixtures lacking the fundamental element of a live attending crowd, meaning that the German stadiums were left with a somewhat eerie atmosphere. You could hear a pin drop inside the Westfalenstadion when Erling Haaland gave Dortmund the lead in the Revierderby, a feat that would normally be met with a ferocious roar from the 25,000 ultras that represent the Yellow Wall.
The lone cries from players and coaches reverberated across the empty venues which served as a timely reminder that just because football is back, we are far from defeating this virus and far from ‘back to normal.’ Nevertheless, football matches were played, goals were scored and some players looked impressive, so I thought I’d do a little round up, looking at teams and players from this round of fixtures, and somehow link it to Arsenal.
Dortmund kicked off the return with a 4-0 thrashing of local rivals Schalke in the weekend’s headliner. Both sides looked understandably rusty and lacked intensity in both the opening 20 and final 20 minutes, with Dortmund’s superior quality and ruthlessness in the final third meaning they comfortably grabbed all 3 points. Schalke looked distinctly lacking in quality offensively under the stewardship of former Huddersfield boss David Wagner, who has a lot of work to do if die Knappen are to qualify for Europa League football for next season. No-one in their squad exactly put in a note-worthy performance to get my eyes drawling so much that I desperately went and pleaded Arsenal’s twitter admin to go get them (because that works, football twitter).
As for Dortmund, not many of their squad feel particularly attainable at the moment, but might as well mention a few names. Both wing-backs stood out, Achraf Hakimi and Raphael Guerreiro, marauding down their respective lines at every opportunity and providing BVB with constant outlets. Guerreiro got the goals, but Hakimi’s incredible pace, tenacity and quality on the ball stood out. He was also very steady defensively- unfortunately it would appear that, whilst there is genuine substance behind our links to the Moroccan, the rest of Europe are also after him, and we don’t exactly have a comparative advantage over anyone at the moment in luring the continent’s most wanted young talents.
Another Dortmund player that has been linked with us in the past is Julian Brandt, who demonstrated his creative assets in this game with 2 assists and a pre-assist. His nonchalant quality on the ball was evident, although he did certainly fade in and out of the game (perhaps understandable given the conditions surrounding the encounter).
Mönchengladbach were perhaps the most impressive side I was lucky enough to watch this weekend. They strolled into a 2-0 lead in Frankfurt within 7 minutes, before controlling the rest of the game with their perfectly executed system which suits the player’s at Marco Rose’s disposal down to a tea. I was disappointed to see Denis Zakaria’s absence due to injury, but many others caught my eye. Florian Neuhaus was superb in midfield, his ball progression abilities and ability to create chances with excellently timed passes a joy to watch. At just 23 he’d be a real coup and is certainly a player who has the capabilities to be a long-term Mesut Ozil replacement. The likes of Breel Embolo (in a deeper role), Alassane Plea and Marcus Thuram were all very influential in their movement and relentless pressing, but it was Neuhaus’ craft from deeper which provided this platform for them to excel.
On the other side, Evan N’Dicka, a player us Arsenal fans have heard a lot about recently, looked very out of place in an unconventional left-back role, struggling with the positional element to playing there and failing to provide any sort of offensive outlet for Eintracht. It’ll be difficult to properly judge him until he gets an opportunity in his more natural central role.
Another side who impressed were 5th placed Leverkusen, who comfortably beat relegation threatened Werder Bremen in Northern Germany. Kai Havertz, deployed in a false nine role in the absence of top scorer Kevin Volland, scored twice from crosses and was involved in the build up to the third goal. Aside from these key contributions, he looked slightly off the pace, with some very wasteful and loose touches- you’d expect this to go however with more game time and increased match sharpness.
As the site’s deputy Editor Daniel Finton wrote about yesterday, young centre-back Edmond Tapsoba put in perhaps the most impressive display for Leverkusen, dominating Bremen’s feeble attack with his impressive recovery pace and strength, whilst looking largely assured in possession, definitely making him one to keep an eye on. He also kept Jonathan Tah out of the side, a player who’s links to Arsenal seem to have existed for many years now.
Leverkusen’s high line meant they controlled the game and despite some neat approach play from Bremen, they struggled to get the ball into offensive areas. When they did, they were extremely wasteful- a lot of this wastefulness associated with their young winger and talisman Milot Rashica, who I wrote about last week. Certainly a player with a lot of raw natural talent, but needs significant nurturing and toning. His choice of pass and decisions to shoot in critical moments remain very poor, and perhaps reflect a slight frustration from the player himself, who isn’t playing in a team who can feed him the ball frequently enough.
Aside from the three games I’ve talked about, I did watch Bayern comfortably beat Union Berlin, although neither side realistically possesses any player who Arsenal will or should pursue. I don’t want to comment on other games which I’ve only seen limited highlights from, but I will be doing this sort of article again next week, and will hopefully have a greater array of teams to assess. Cheers.