You know when a driver, frustrated in traffic, finally sees a stretch of open road and blazes off with inappropriate and unwarranted speed into the middle distance? Welcome back, the Bundesliga. German football’s first domestic action in nearly 10 weeks was a dizzying assault on the senses, a torrent of copper from an arcade coin pusher machine, a stream of consciousness from a chatterbox that has been starved of company and has stayed silent all day.
It all started on Friday night in Leipzig, where fireworks were expected in a face off between the league’s two best teams. Instead, the visit of Bayern was more about measure and respectful distances. After a bleak midwinter of fretting over a replacement for the injured Manuel Neuer, the champions bedded in Yann Sommer, signed on Thursday and making his debut, characteristically unruffled, the day after. It was an alarm-free first game for the Swiss goalkeeper, though he could do little about Marcel Halstenberg’s second-half equaliser.
Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting had picked up the campaign where he left it, smartly putting Bayern in front before the break. Bayern’s projected defensive issues didn’t surface here, with their other (surprise) new arrival, Daley Blind, safely tucked away on the bench. The teams mustered a relatively tame 17 efforts on goal between them.
Even the major flashpoint of the night found its zen quickly enough. As the halfway point of the second half approached Dayot Upamecano flattened Dominik Szoboszlai as he began to burst clear from halfway, with Daniel Siebert showing the France defender a yellow card. Leipzig’s players surrounded the referee, expecting more, and coach Marco Rose’s touchline ire was enough to earn him a caution. Yet after full time, Siebert stepped in front of the television cameras to give his reasoning; Szoboszlai’s distance from goal, wide position and possible cover from Matthijs de Ligt all factored in. Rose stood beside the official as he gave his explanation, listened, accepted it, apologised and shook Siebert’s hand. It was all inherently balanced and reasonable.
So it was up to others to really turn up the volume on Saturday – and how they took their opportunity. Freiburg, who started 2023 occupying second place in the Bundesliga, were steamrollered 6-0 at Wolfsburg. “It wasn’t even a contest,” rued Christian Streich, for whom it wasn’t much of a celebration of 11 years in charge. Patrick Wimmer had given Die Wölfe the lead 59 seconds in, with pyro smoke still lingering over the field. By the end, everybody was getting involved. Luca Waldschmidt scored his first goal in 476 days from the penalty spot with the last kick of the game.
FC Köln, who spent much of the break fending off questions about coach Steffen Baumgart’s future having scored eight goals in the eight games preceding the hiatus, rattled seven past Werder Bremen – they had five by half-time with Steffen Tigges (three Bundesliga goals before Christmas) scoring twice, including one chipped over a stranded Jiri Pavlenka from the centre circle. “Zieht den Bayern die Lederhosen aus” – “take Bayern’s lederhosen off” – was the chant from the delirious home fans ahead of next week’s trip south to Bavaria.
This columnist got the abacus out to count 36 goals in total by the end of Borussia Dortmund’s seven-goal mindbender with Augsburg on Sunday afternoon, a game that ended with a home side in dire need of defensive solidity throwing up two of their number – Mats Hummels and Raphaël Guerreiro – to try to score a goal in the dying embers of stoppage time.
“I don’t know if I’m really happy or if I should just be quiet because we got the three points,” Hummels’ accident-prone centre-back partner, Nico Schlotterbeck, told DAZN, having been at the heart of the chaos. His overplaying presented Arne Maier with Augsburg’s first equaliser before he instantly gave BVB the lead back with a header. He was again implicated for the visitors’ third leveller via David Colina, while chipping in to the build-up to his team’s third and fourth goals, wonderful finishes by substitutes Jamie Bynoe-Gittins and Gio Reyna, which sandwiched it.
Schlotterbeck described the match as “quality up front and no quality at the back” with laudable candour and, despite being defended by his coach Edin Terzic, he could have been describing himself in this instance. In the midst of this there was also a stylish opener from the irrepressible Jude Bellingham, who appears to be as exhilarated and infuriated as anyone in the stands at Signal Iduna Park.
It was up to Borussia Mönchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen to finish the first weekend back in relatively sensible fashion on Sunday afternoon, with the visitors winning by the odd goal in five and confirming Xabi Alonso’s excellent early efforts with Die Werkself. That took the weekend’s collective goal tally past the 40 mark. The scoreline flattered the home side, giving Jonas Omlin a first game since arriving from Montpellier to replace his compatriot Sommer.
Leverkusen continued as if their last game had been last week; direct, dangerous and deadly, showing perhaps the greatest poise of any of the resuming teams in racing into a 3-0 lead – at least until the concession of two artfully finished but ultimately meaningless late goals to Lars Stindl for a depleted Gladbach. “The speed we have is really extraordinary,” noted Nadiem Amiri, reintegrated by Alonso and the scorer of his team’s delicious third, with the return of teenage star Florian Wirtz after 10 months out an added bonus.
In the weeks before the resumption it felt as if all the question marks at Bayern might be the best chance we had of Bundesliga fireworks in the new year. Yet, as always, it’s the supporting cast that have the power to light our fires – even when fluffing their lines.
• Despite the absorbing spectacle on offer at Westfalen, the real highlight was the appearance of Sebastien Haller as a second-half substitute for Youssoufa Moukoko, having recovered from two surgeries and chemotherapy. The former Ajax striker took the field to a rousing and emotional ovation with the message “Fuck Cancer” on his boots, calling the reception “incredible and unforgettable.” It is already clear that he will add a lot to the frontline even as he regains optimum fitness, at the end of a week in which Moukoko finally signed a contract extension to 2026.
• Eintracht Frankfurt bagged second place after Freiburg’s implosion with a 3-0 win over rock-bottom Schalke. It wasn’t quite as easy as it may look on paper, though Jesper Lindstrøm’s fantastic opener after slaloming through the visiting defence was a worthy addition to their mounting heap of season highlights.
• Union tuck behind them in third after coming from a goal down to beat Hoffenheim late on, mainly thanks to a brace of Danilho Doekhi headers. There was more good news for Unioner as Josip Juranovic, arguably the outstanding right-back at the World Cup, was confirmed as their new club record signing on Sunday morning, arriving from Celtic.
• Bochum’s great escape is on, with Philipp Hofmann’s double vanquishing Hertha, helping them to a fourth successive win and lifting them out of the relegation places after their abysmal start to the season. They leapt above their floundering opponents, who are now in the bottom two.