Cologne - “We got off to a relatively quick start,” Karim Bellarabi told Bayer04-tv in an early contender for Bundesliga understatement of the season.
On top in Dortmund
All of nine seconds into the Matchday 1 contest at the Signal Iduna Park, the former Germany Under-21 international finished off a rapier-like move down the left by sweeping the ball past stand-in Borussia Dortmund keeper Mitch Langerak, shaving a couple of seconds off the previous all-time best-mark for the Bundesliga's fastest goal.
Putting the hosts on the back foot at the earliest opportunity was very much part of the plan for new Bayer coach Roger Schmidt, but even he could scarcely have imagined making quite such a turbocharged start to his own touchline career in Germany's top flight. And for the bulk of the first half, the Werkself continued to thoroughly outplay Dortmund at their own game, pressing high up the pitch and through the middle with a ferocious intensity that home coach Jürgen Klopp later acknowledged was beyond the normal scope of even his own prodigiously dynamic charges.
The second half was an altogether more evenly-balanced affair but a goal from deep in added time put the final seal on an excellent opening day's work for Bayer. The seemingly tireless 2012/13 Bundesliga top scorer did, perhaps tellingly, acknowledge that the new style of play was “very sapping, you really had to grit your teeth. But when you end up with a result like that, you can put the fatigue to one side”.
Philosophy being implemented
Schmidt arrived at Bayer 04 Leverkusen over the summer having led Red Bull Salzburg to a runaway Austrian title victory using a similar methodology. At Dortmund, holding midfielders Simon Rolfes and Gonzalo Castro, nominal wide men Bellarabi and Heung-Min Son and forward duo Kießling and Hakan Calhanoglu operated as a compact yet still shape-shifting pack well inside Dortmund territory, feeding off long balls from keeper Bernd Leno and centre-backs Emir Spahic and Ömer Toprak.
Any pass that strayed towards an opponent's feet was mercilessly chased down, snuffing out Borussia's potent counterattacking threat at source. Full-backs Sebastian Boenisch and Tin Jedvaj likewise avoided the temptation to drift out too wide, further frustrating the hosts' attempts to open up their own forward game from deep. Having out-thought and outfought FC Bayern München in the season curtain-raising Supercup, BVB found themselves on the receiving end of similar treatment as the league programme got underway.
Calhanoglu making his mark already
For Bayer, and Schmidt, meanwhile, it was the third straight competitive success, following up on a 6-0 win at fifth-flight SV Alemannia Waldalgesheim in the first round of the DFB Cup and a very handy 3-2 victory away to FC Kobenhavn in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League play-off round. The second leg against the Danes was an even more enjoyable occasion, as a 4-0 victory sent Bayer through to the group stages, where they will face SL Benfica, FC Zenit and AS Monaco FC.
At any rate, the new man in the coaching hot seat is thus far making good on his reputation as one of the coming names in the game. The speed with which the players have evidently adapted to his demanding system speaks volumes for their own collective match intelligence as well. Former Hamburger SV shooting star Calhanoglu looks made-to-measure for the Bayer No10 shirt and scored his first goal against Kobnhavn in the BayArena.
In the wake of the win at Dortmund, Schmidt praised his team for “an extraordinary performance”. Leno, who pulled off three vital saves late on as die Schwarz-Gelben belatedly hit their stride, formulated it somewhat more colourfully. “The way we played in the first half was great and when we did start running out of steam a bit, we battled away brilliantly. We're one wicked team,” said the 22-year-old custodian. The Bundesliga has been warned.