Three Points: Dortmund vs. Bayern
DORTMUND, Germany -- Three observations from Borussia Dortmund's 2-0 win over Bayern Munich in the DFL Super Cup.
1. Bayern's bad day
Twenty-nine minutes into the German Super Cup final, Javi Martinez was up in the air in Dortmund's box, trying to reach a cross with a scissor kick. All he hit with his left foot was Marcel Schmelzer's elbow. When he landed, the Spaniard did not get up, obviously in pain, holding his knee. He was stretchered off the pitch with an ice pack on his knee.
"We'll know more tomorrow, but I think that he'll be out for a long time," Bayern boss Pep Guardiola said after the match. He feared the worst -- an ACL tear.
That would serve as real blow for Bayern, who had started the Super Cup clash with Martinez anchoring the back line in a 3-4-3 formation. It looked light, especially as the two wide midfielders Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Juan Bernat did not cover spaces in defense, and holding midfielders Gianluca Gaudino and Sebastian Rode soon allowed Dortmund's midfield to take control.
At the time of Martinez's substitution, Bayern were already down a goal. Oliver Kirch collected a long Bayern ball at the halfway line and passed it to Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The Armenian snuck around Gaudino and into acres of space. Some nasty defending and a one-two with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang later, the ball flew past the again outstanding Manuel Neuer.
It was a bad day for the Bavarians. Upon his return to the Westfalenstadion, Robert Lewandowski often came out second best against Dortmund's stubborn centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos. When, finally, he broke through in the 46th minute, Mitch Langerak did a fine impersonation of Neuer and parried the ball clear of danger.
But what overshadowed everything for Bayern was not the defeat, not the poor display on the pitch, and not even the absence of key players like Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben or Bastian Schweinsteiger; it was Martinez's injury.
2. Replacing Robert Lewandowski
The main question for Dortmund ahead of the new season has been whether they will be able to replace Lewandowski. For the past three seasons, the Poland international has been the go-to guy in BVB's attack, and the black-and-yellow invested more money than ever to replace their former target man.
They signed Adrian Ramos from Hertha Berlin, and Serie A leading scorer Ciro Immobile from Torino. But the answer to the Lewandowski question might be the club's record signing Mkhitaryan, who had struggled for major parts of his first season at the Westfalenstadion.
Sometime in March, Jurgen Klopp decided to take the Armenian out of the spotlight of the central role, and put him on the left wing. Suddenly, he was able to use his speed, see spaces for his clinical passes and also shook off his nerves in front of goal. He has been one of the standouts of Dortmund's preseason, and on Wednesday put BVB ahead. From a wider position, Mkhitaryan worked hard but with ease, allowing Marco Reus' replacement, Jonas Hofmann, to control the central midfield.
The Armenia international combined with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for the opening goal, and the fleet-footed Gabon winger has also truly arrived at Dortmund. Now played in a more attacking role in a 4-4-2, he appears to have finally settled at the club, only weeks after rumours of his departure made the rounds in Germany.
Despite scoring 13 goals in his first season, the former Saint-Etienne attacker had been questioned for his inability to adapt to Dortmund's high-speed football, which has meant high-speed defending, too. Aubameyang asked serious questions of Bayern's defense -- through more than just his second-half goal, which he celebrated in style -- questions that the Bavarians proved unable to answer.
The pair could allow Ramos and Immobile some crucial time to get accustomed to their new club, without them having to replace Lewandowski from day one.
3. Does the Super Cup even matter?
The neglected trophy. Whoever wins it can celebrate, whoever doesn't won't worry too much.
"It might be a nice indicator," Dortmund captain Mats Hummels said before the match. Like so many other World Cup players, the centre-back did not feature in the match.
"We are still in preseason," Philipp Lahm later explained. "We'll need a few more games." Guardiola, seemingly shaken by the news of the Martinez injury, even went as far as to say that Bayern will need all of the first half of the season to recover from the World Cup.
So, does the Super Cup really matter? Maybe not the trophy itself, despite the fact that a smiling Klopp contemplated printing Rekordsupercupsieger ("record Super Cup winner") t-shirts after the match.
Dortmund indeed have more options this season. Last season's injury curse might even turn into late luck for BVB. Players like Sokratis, who owned Lewandowski, and Erik Durm, whose second-half performance was a hint at greater things to come, won vital experience. Klopp had also been forced to play veteran midfielder Oliver Kirch, who had rotted on the bench for so long, and turned out to be another solid option.
Indeed, Dortmund look strong and deep, with Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang going into their second season at the club; and Reus, Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan, Kevin Grosskreutz, Nuri Sahin and Roman Weidenfeller are all set to return sometime in the near future. The Bundesliga runners-up want to cement their place as Germany's No. 2, and they appear to be on course to do so.
Bayern, on the other hand, need not worry. Yes, Guardiola believes it will take some time until we will see them at full strength, but given their depth, and the Catalan's ever-evolving tactics and formations, Bayern Munich remain the team to beat in Bundesliga and, most likely, in Europe.