Deja vu for BVB in Leverkusen opener
Now it counts. The Bundesliga season finally starts, and the excitement is rising as nobody really knows what to expect from their clubs. Borussia Dortmund have a cracker right from the off, as they welcome Bayer Leverkusen to the Westfalenstadion.
It's deja vu of the 2010-11 season, where the first game was also against the Rhineside. It was the season in which Dortmund won their first championship under Jurgen Klopp, but BVB managed to lose that first game to Bayer and overreaction Monday was ensured. It's time to let the past rest, as we look ahead to Saturday evening.
Sadly, last season is still quite present when looking at Dortmund's ever-so-packed injury list. Klopp will have to make his personnel plans without eight players: Adrian Ramos, Ji Dong-won, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Nuri Sahin, Oliver Kirch, Ilkay Gundogan, Marcel Schmelzer and Mats Hummels are unavailable for selection.
The Dortmund coach coolly quipped, "I hope I didn't forget anyone, but get well soon anyway," while listing the names. At least Ramos, Ji, Hummels and Schmelzer should feature next weekend, but let's not jinx anything.
But even the injury news can't dampen the excitement at the Westfalenstadion, nor the eagerness to find some answers to a pertinent question: Which Borussia Dortmund will we see? The one that impressively blew away Bayern Munich in the Super Cup or the defensively shaky side that lost to Liverpool and had a few too many scary moments against Stuttgarter Kickers in the DFB Cup?
Leverkusen will surely pose a bigger threat than all the clubs Dortmund have faced thus far, so BVB will be hopeful of healing up before Saturday.
That's largely because the pharmaceutical-backed club has strengthened significantly over the summer. They added great prospects like Hakan Calhanoglu, who arrived for 14.5 million euros from Hamburg, and Josip Drmic from FC Nurnberg. Drmic was on Dortmund's summer shopping list
"There are players we want," Klopp told a BVB talk show, "but who think we are too good for them so they go to our opposition and then strengthen them." It is Drmic to which he is referring.
The Rhineside's youth department is also looking sharp, as they have two highly promising Euro U-19 champions within their ranks in central midfielders Levin Oztunali and Julian Brandt -- who's already been likened to a young Mario Gotze.
But new signings and youth prodigies aren't the only additions to the already well-equipped Leverkusen squad. The man charged with ensuring that all this potential will transmit onto the pitch is Roger Schmidt. The 47-year-old coach has quite an impressive CV after successful spells with SC Paderborn and Red Bull Salzburg. His pedigree cannot be measured in titles, as the Austrian league only counts for so much, but rather in his coaching style.
"I was an attacking midfielder," he said, "my first idea is to score goals." His ethos was on full display in Leverkusen's 3-2 win in the Champions League playoff against Copenhagen.
Schmidt has demonstrated that he is comfortable with a very high line and vertical pressing. So, if you are an unbiased football aficionado looking for fun, Bayer Leverkusen might be one to watch.
So what we can expect from Saturday's game is a gegenpressing faceoff, where two pacey attacks will try to pounce on the errors of the opposition.
Stefan Kiessling will lead the attack for Leverkusen, Calhanoglu will create just behind him and the pacey Karim Bellarabi and Heung-Min Son -- who seems to find his way on the score sheet every time he faces Dortmund -- will bomb down the flanks. Ciro Immobile and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will shuffle around with Marco Reus and Henrikh Mkhitaryan on Dortmund's front to keep the 80,000 of the Westfalenstadion entertained.
Saturday's matchup might already make it clear, but Leverkusen's current squad has greater potential than it has in a long time, all in hands of a very capable coach. They will pose a serious threat to Dortmund for second place, so a win will be savoured by BVB, but as in 2010, a different result won't be the end of the world.