Matchday 1 of this season’s Group Stage of the Champions’ League offered up something of a mixed bag for the three Bundesliga representatives; with Champions Dortmund drawing, Bayer Leverkusen losing, and Bayern completing the set with a win.
Borussia Dortmund 1-1 Arsenal
Tuesday evening saw a capacity crowd of 65,000 create a cacophony of noise befitting the “temple of football” moniker attributed to the Westfalenstadion by Arsene Wenger not 24 hours earlier, though some 20,000 down on the usual Bundesliga capacity due to UEFA restraints. And true to that intimidating greeting, so the eleven on the pitch sought to belie their Pot 4 seeding, offering a hostile reception to the visitors and immediately taking the fight to The Gunners.
After an important early block from Mats Hummels, BVB visibly grew in confidence and stature, and dominated the subsequent 40 minutes. Kevin Großkreutz and Shinji Kagawa both wasted half chances, before Robert Lewandowski was superbly denied by a goal-line headed clearance from Bacary Sagna after latching on to an excellent through ball from Mario Götze, and rounding ‘keeper Szczesny. Götze – at the heart of Jürgen Klopp’s quintessential 4-5-1 formation weighted by the returning Sebastian Kehl – was pulling all the strings, no doubt furthering the opponents interest in his signature. And the 19 year-old once again teed up Lewandowski at the back post, only for the Polish striker to be denied by his compatriot Szczesny.
Then, just three minutes before the break, the ‘Yellow Wall’ of the Dortmund kop was silenced, as a slip and poor touch from Kehl allowed Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie to combine to slice through the home side rearguard; the imposing Dutchman finishing clinically with his weaker right foot.
The second half saw Die Schwarzgelben attempt to pick up where they had left off. However, despite dominating possession and territory again, a deeper-lying Arsenal went some way to neutralising the high, pressing game adopted by Dortmund, with Alex Song playing a pivotal role. As his team struggling to find the same freedom as during the first half, Klopp replaced Kehl with Jakob Blaszczykowski, and the tiring Großkreutz with Ivan Perisic with around 20 minutes remaining. It turned out to be a couple of inspired changes, as Blaszczykowski neutralised the effect of Song, allowing BVB to build another period of sustained pressure. That pressure finally paid dividend for Dortmund with 88 minutes on the clock. Götze’s 25-yard flighted free-kick was nodded clear, but dropped invitingly for Perisic on the edge of the box. The Croatian international duly steadied himself, before rifling a left foot volley beyond the helpless Szczesny, and into the top right corner of the net.
It was a strike that left Arsenal Assistant Manager Pat Rice drooling: “It was a great goal! He could try that 25, 30, 40 times and would hit it over the bar. Dortmund are a really good side [though]and not many sides will come here and win”.
The ever-bespectacled Klopp seemed equally as happy with a point, noting the encouragement he took from bouncing back after last week’s league defeat to Hertha Berlin, and contending: “I am very satisfied with the performance of my team. Arsenal are a very attacking side and we were able to hold them. We were rewarded with one point from a hard fight and it is great for this young team to have achieved this draw. We were cheeky, we were brave and in the end we were rewarded for it. We enjoyed playing; we put them under constant pressure for almost the entire 90 minutes. We could have had a bit more luck with some of our chances, but I am very pleased.”
Chelsea 2-0 Bayer Leverkusen
Less enthusiastic, though no less stoic, was Robin Dutt. Despite having seen his charges muster just two efforts on target, the 46-year old Coach proved to be not too down-hearted: “…we knew before that we would not register a big win at Chelsea. Chelsea won deservedly, no question about it. But nevertheless I have seen a good performance from my team”.
Indeed, it could have been so much better for the Rhine-based side, had Simon Rolfes early header not been disallowed for a foul by Omer Toprak elsewhere in the penalty area. That incident, though, only served in making it one-all in goals chalked off, with Chelsea also having a strike from the much-maligned Fernando Torres annulled with Raul Meireles in an offside position.
A largely forgettable first 45 saw Bernd Leno save smartly twice, from Torres and Daniel Sturridge, but was most notable for the way Michael Ballack rolled back the years to put in a dominant midfield turn. With nigh on 60 minutes on the watch, the former national team captain should have capped his display with a goal, but failed to find a way past Petr Cech when clean through. That missed chance was to prove costly just seven minutes later – and shortly after Ballack’s departure, and the introduction of Nicholas Anelka and Frank Lampard. The dynamic David Luiz, running from inside his own half, combined excellently with Torres, and finishing with aplomb from 20 yards.
From that point, it was mainly one-way traffic, as Chelsea looked to put the tie beyond doubt. It would take them until three minutes into stoppage time to achieve that, when Torres again proved too much for the Leverkusen rearguard, escaping the attentions of Michal Kadlac, before pulling back for Juan Mata to drill home.
Dutt was relatively pleased with his side’s showing, putting the difference down to it being Chelsea who broke the stalemate. Defending his decision to remove Ballack from proceedings, he countered: “[he]played a good game until he was taken off. He covered a lot of ground and then they brought on two fresh players, so I also introduced a new player in Renato Augusto who is a very good attacking midfielder”. The only hint of what might await the Werkself in the dressing came as he noted the opening strike of the game, musing how “a centre-back is allowed to march right through the entire midfield to score!”
Villareal 0-2 Bayern Munich
Faring the best of Germany’s three representatives in this year’s premier European competition were the most experienced of that trio, as the giants of Munich made an impressive start to their campaign. With the final of the Champions’ League destined for the 65,000-seater Allianz Arena that they call ‘home’, Bayern’s hierarchy have already gone on record to state their priority this season. Having failed to reach the last showdown on each of the previous two occasions when they have played host, that emphasis was clearly not lost on the players, as they set about this game with a noted intensity.
Drawn alongside Napoli and big-spending Manchester City, the two teams knew that early points on the board in Group A could prove vital. With 15 goals in their past three domestic matches, and having had competitive football for three weeks more than their opponents, it was no real surprise that it was the away side that scored first. The effervescent Franck Ribéry drove past Marcos Senna on the left flank, before knocking the ball back to the criminally-unmarked Toni Kroos to finish with comparative ease. That strike allowed Bayern to drop a bit deeper, limiting the space in which de Guzman had to operate, and Manuel Neuer proved himself to be suitably alert to deny both Giuseppi Rossi and Bruno Soriano.
With Villareal noticeably struggling to find a link from midfield to their striking pair – thus undermining the main strength of the 4-3-1-2 deployed by Juan Carlos Garrido – Bastian Schweinsteiger and Anatoli Tymoschuk were afforded far too much freedom. With the home team’s full-backs unable to break forward due to the pressure applied by Ribéry and Müller, Bayern enjoyed a domination they could scarcely have expected as the visitors, mustering 14 shots to four.
It was a similar tale in the second half, as Villareal found themselves with little option but to push on, thus leaving Bayern with room behind to exploit. Despite controlling more of the ball as a result, the home side were unable to generate much in the way of chances, and were being increasingly stretched at the back. It was through that route which Bayern finally secured the three points. Rafinha – on for the injured Van Bommel mid-way through the first period – again broke down the left-hand side, before cutting inside to drill a smart near-post finish under Diego López.
Newly-returned Coach, Jupp Heynckes, cited a strong defence as key to his team’s performance, but stressed the need to retain focus beyond the winter break in the competition: “there is a long way to go [but]we did a very fine job, with just a few exceptions. We have so much quality up front that we will always create chances.”