Dortmund dominate lax Bayern
Four weeks and four days after the World Cup final, golden ticker tape rained down on a German team again. This time, however, it was only the Super Cup that was being lifted, an unsightly trophy that is made of different kinds of metal (to symbolise both the silver championship and bowl and the golden DFB Cup) and comes with ambiguous feelings.
"The winner will be happy, the loser will say 'It was just a friendly'; we know that," Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp had predicted a few days ago. After his side's convincing 2-0 win against a disorganised, harmless Bayern Munich side, the 47-year-old kept his emotional distance, too.
"There are worse things," he joked when asked about Borussia making it into the record books with a fifth Super Cup title. "Maybe we'll make a T-shirt out of it." Needless to say, they didn't.
The Black and Yellows didn't leave the Signal Iduna Park with specifically designed commemorative shirts -- as has become the norm after bigger, more important triumphs -- and nobody paraded the cup to the waiting reporters in the stadium's mixed zone. This was always going to be a game in which the level of performance would count more than the right to add a line to a club's letterhead.
"We need a good game here," a Dortmund official had confided to ESPN FC before the kickoff. The team's confidence had taken a small knock after a recent 4-0 friendly defeat by Liverpool, he explained, and another unsatisfactory outcome would have made the start to the season proper more fraught.
As it was, Klopp's new 4-4-2 system, a formation that effectively became a 4-3-3 when his team pressed Bayern high up in their own half, worked a treat. The Bundesliga champions had only four shots on goal and only two meaningful attacks on a whole.
"We defended sensationally well; I didn't see any [Dortmund] player not playing well today," Klopp said happily.
Sebastian Kehl, captain for one last time in the absence of the new designated skipper, Mats Hummels, who was rested after the World Cup, concurred. "I can only recall a few situations in which they had any opportunities. We disrupted their game deep in their own half," said the 34-year-old.
Dortmund's effectiveness with and without the ball recounted their masterful 3-0 Bundesliga at Munich in March. Goal scorers Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were two of the best players in the home team, though new striker Ciro Immobile seemed to struggle to a little to sing from the same hymn sheet.
Listening to Mkhitaryan explain his new sense of feeling "secure" in the team at the start of his second season in Westphalia, you could tell there's a pattern. "I now understand much better what it is expected of me," he said via a translator.
It had taken him time to "internalise" Dortmund's playing style, the Armenian midfielder had admitted in the run-up to the match. Meanwhile, Aubameyang, a tremendously fast but overtly technical striker, also looked more assured in his movement and positioning.
One shouldn't read too much into a single game against unsettled and understaffed opposition, but there are signs both "Micki" and "Auba," the latter of whom who pulled out a Spider-Man mask to celebrate his goal, have truly adapted to Klopp's highly demanding style. Immobile and Adrian Ramos, the second prominent addition to the attack, haven't (yet), on the other hand. Borussia must hope that their integration won't take up the best part of the new campaign.
An excellent game from new 10 million-euro defender (and World Cup winner) Matthias Ginter -- "to play at home for the first time was an incredible feeling" -- was another boon for Klopp, as was the strong performance of Sokratis Papastathopoulos, the second centre-back.
With Hummels and Marco Reus still to come back into the fold, Dortmund look well poised to achieve their targets of (A) pushing Bayern all the way in the league and the cup and (B) going deep into the Champions League again.
For the Bavarians, the loss of Javier Martinez with suspected ligament damage in his knee naturally weighed heavier than losing their second Super Cup game in succession. "It's a cruciate ligament rupture, 99 per cent," the Spanish international declared on his Facebook page later on Wednesday night. If that diagnosis proves accurate, the 25-year-old will be out of action for at least six months.
Such a loss would be a heavy blow for Pep Guardiola and his men. Martinez, firstly, had been in very good shape in preseason, no doubt aided by the fact that he had had more time to prepare himself after Spain's early exit from the competition in Brazil.
"He was already in team training for a while; it would be bad for us [if he's out for half the season], we are already without some players," said captain Philipp Lahm, himself a second-half substitute.
Martinez will join his countryman Thiago Alcantara on the sidelines. Guardiola's supposed key signing had to deny rumours about an injury relapse after failing to get fit for the start of the season but the coach was unable to give an exact estimate for his expected return.
The 23-year-old hurt his knee at the end of March, and reports in local Munich newspapers suggested the club have been unhappy with the treatment he has received in Spain. Right-back Rafinha is also out of commission for a couple of months with an ankle injury.
Martinez's layoff could well scupper Guardiola's plan to play with three men at the back, but he'll be missed in central midfield, too. Without Thiago and Toni Kroos, who has moved to Real Madrid, there's suddenly a shortage. Lahm could slot in, but then there's no natural right-back, while Bastian Schweinsteiger will need a few more weeks before he'll return to full fitness.
Bayern will, of course, look a much more potent side once Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Schweinsteiger and all the other World Cup winners are ready to start again but Guardiola predicted a bumpy road ahead in the next few weeks.
"We will need time but we don't have time," he said. "The team will only be at top level at the winter break."
That's a lot of games to play below par but at least there's no danger of peaking too early, as they did last season.
Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC's German football expert and a regular guest on ESPN FC TV. He also writes for the Guardian, among other outlets, and is author of Englischer Fussball.