Lewandowski hitting new heights
We knew he was good but this is just ridiculous. Robert Lewandowski’s Bundesliga scoring record for Bayern going into this season was an eye watering 128 in 161 games. In the opening period of this campaign though, the Pole has taken things to a whole new level, scoring nine in the opening five matchdays – a goal every 48 minutes.
How and why is Lewandowski even better this season? Bayern are playing an even more expansive, attacking, style, with Niko Kovac’s side enjoying the most possession, shots and goals scored in the league. The arrivals of Philippe Countinho and Ivan Perisic, who both also found the back of the net against Cologne on matchday five, have also benefited the Pole. The scariest possibility is that he might just be getting better.
Just as likely, though, is that the 31-year-old knows he has serious competition for the golden boot this year. RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner has been in scintillating form this season, hitting five in five. The same is true of Dortmund’s Paco Alcacer. Both players look hungry and play for coaches and in systems that get the best out of them.
Lewandowski has won the award two years on the bounce. The early signs suggest a hat trick is his to lose.
The Nagelsmann effect
Fewer coaching changes have been felt more keenly than in the case of Julian Nagelsmann. The 32-year-old’s decision to join RB Leipzig as head coach for the beginning of the new campaign was questioned by some who wondered if it was the right place for him at this stage of his career.
He’s silenced those doubters already, showing himself to be the perfect fit for a club looking to transition from dark horses to genuine title contenders. Nagelsmann has instilled his trademark hard-pressing, slick-passing style on the east German side, and appears to be getting the best out of his young, eager to learn, players.
He’s also shown himself to be tactically adept. His decision to change his approach at halftime against Bayern Munich on matchday three proved pivotal. With his side trailing at the break, Nagelsmann’s switch turned the game on its head and earned Leipzig a point which may yet prove valuable in the title race.
Meanwhile, his old club Hoffenheim are enduring a nightmare start to the campaign, with just one win from their opening five fixtures. They appear lost without the man that took them to back-to-back top-four finishes during his three-year stay.
VAR bedlam continues
Whatever your stance on VAR, you have to admit it’s not doing itself any favors.
The same old complaints persist about it sucking the fun out of games. Fans celebrate in a kind of purgatory for several seconds after seeing the ball hit the back of the net, and many still don’t quite understand why a goal has been disallowed long after play has been restarted.
A year after the technology was introduced to the Bundesliga, that confusion has continued.
Incidents such as Fortuna Düsseldorf having a goal confirmed against Wolfsburg on matchday three, despite the ball clearly going out of play in the build-up.
“It’s very annoying,” Wolfsburg sporting director Jörg Schmadtke said after the 1-1 draw. “We brought in the video referee for more fairness, and then he isn’t capable of seeing that.”
The handball rule remains confusing, with some being penalized, but others not. The rule might well be that any handball in the build-up to a goal from an attacker is a foul, but the reality looks very different.
Knowing that VAR is likely here to stay, the hope is gets more big calls right than wrong in the remaining 29 matchdays.
What goes up…
The season is long, but the three promoted teams – Cologne, Paderborn and Union Berlin – have looked, well, pretty second tier so far this season.
Union’s shock 3-1 defeat of Borussia Dortmund on matchday three turned out to be a false dawn for a club which has waited so long to play in Germany’s top-flight. That the international break immediately followed that victory can’t have helped, knocking the wind out of their sails by the time things got going again.
Cologne and Paderborn, meanwhile, have a solitary win between them, with the latter rooted to the bottom of the table. For all their bravery in style of play, the three clubs need to find a way to get some wins under their belts – the way Fortuna did last season after a miserable start – or they may find themselves consigned to second division football long before the final of game the season.
New coaches struggle to adapt
The Bundesliga can be an unforgiving place. Just ask any of Marco Rose (Gladbach), Alfred Schreuder (Hoffenheim), Ante Covic (Hertha Berlin). The three all took charge of their respective clubs in the summer, having never managed in Germany’s top division before. The early signs are not good – they only have 5 wins between them from a possible fifteen.
In Rose’s defence three of those victories belong to him, but with Gladbach juggling Bundesliga football and Europa League duties, it’s the Foals’ performances causing distress, not their results.Rose’s charges have looked disjointed and unmotivated so far this season, with Sunday’s 2-1 win over Fortuna Düsseldorf far from emphatic.
Schreuder’s position in the bottom half of the table is made all the more difficult by Nagelsmann’s success at Leipzig. Rarely has a shadow been so emphatically cast. Covic, meanwhile, is the bookies’ favorite to lose his job, with Hertha down near the foot of the table after winning just once so far this season. Fans are particularly aggrieved to find themselves below newly-promoted rivals Union Berlin, albeit on goal difference, after five matches played.
Wolfsburg’s Oliver Glasner and Schalke’s David Wagner have enjoyed more successful starts, but Rose, Schreuder and Covic know they have work to do to make sure they’re still in the job by the winter break.