IIf you have an early chance to nail your colors to the mast and make a good impression with the new fans, take it – and that’s exactly what Nico Schlotterbeck did. Earlier this week, shortly after making his Bundesliga debut for Borussia Dortmund, the young German centre-back was a guest on a chat show on the club’s in-house TV channel in front of a live audience.
Sky presenter Sebastian Hellmann, Schlotterbeck’s other panellist, mentioned an upcoming assignment at Schalke’s match with Borussia Mönchengladbach, the Top-Spiel (top match) on the second weekend of the league season, in the first-class Saturday early evening, 6.30pm kick-off. traces. “Do they have Top-Spiel in Schalke?” Schlotterbeck sneaked in, and naturally brought the house down with a ribbing of BVB’s local rivals.
Schalke have received more than their share of digs in recent years. It’s been a steady downhill since Domenico Tedesco was sacked following March 2019’s 7-0 Champions League defeat (that’s right) to Manchester City. Leroy Sané, a star pupil at the club’s vaunted academy, scored in one, almost four years to the day after he had scored for Die Königsblauen in an exciting victory at Real Madrid. The rest is libel – the illustrious David Wagner reign, the relegation season for four managers, even flirting with Tasmania Berlin’s 31-game Bundesliga winless streak (when Schalke beat Hoffenheim in January 2021 to avoid it, Tasmania was equally relieved as they were).
Coming back was not easy. Even amid the joy and relief of promotion back to the Bundesliga at the first attempt, there was the prospect of more bills to pay. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Schalke felt forced to cut ties with long-term sponsor Gazprom (Dortmund offered to donate and fill the financial gap). Meanwhile, Dimitrios Grammozis, sacked in March as coach with sixth-placed Schalke, continues to receive his €1.2m salary, with promotion secured by his immediate successor Mike Büskens triggering a one-year extension.
So they have a former coach they pay more than their current coach, Frank Kramer (he earns €1m per season). They even pay Grammozis a bonus for every top point they earn this period.
Saturday’s visit to Gladbach made it all worthwhile. Some 62,271 fans packed out Veltins-Arena, the first sellout in two and a half years. These supporters greeted their side with a rousing blue and white choreo and a banner reading “Hundertmal schon totgesagt und dann stehst du wieder auf” (“You have been declared dead a hundred times, and then you rise again”). And how their team played out those words.
Crowd favorite Rodrigo Zalazar, scorer of the goal that won promotion, got a first-half opener from range, but Schalke’s all-action pace wore them down. Gladbach’s patient possession game won control and goals from Jonas Hofmann and Marcus Thuram looked set to spoil the party. Enter Marius Bülter. When VAR confirmed that Patrick Herrmann had handled the attempt to nod a clear cross in stoppage time, Bülter stepped up. He nervelessly converted, the supporters erupted and Schalke had a valuable point.
“We will always have setbacks in the Bundesliga,” Kramer told Sky. “You have to get back up and that’s what the team did today. That’s what fits the culture here, and that’s what people want to see.” The new season has already given strong hints of a (necessary) siege mentality. A spirited performance in the opening day defeat in Cologne was undermined with a sense of injustice after a potential opening goal for Zalazar was ruled out, followed by Dominick Drexler’s red card. Both were probably correct, but transgressive enough to create a complaint.
Here, goalkeeper Alexander Schwolow, who felt like a pretty good loan from Hertha, suffered a new ricket in as many weeks. Having gifted Florian Kainz the decisive second in last week’s defeat, another handling error allowed the revitalized Thuram to give Gladbach a lead that looked to be decisive. Yet Peter Knäbel, Schalke’s sporting director, was quick to shut down any speculation about Schwolow’s status when interviewed. “We don’t have a discussion about goalkeepers at all,” he stressed.
Knäbel also acknowledged the gap between the first and second teams, not least sportingly. Zalazar is yet to last 90 minutes and Jordan Larsson, a bargain signing following his release from Spartak Moscow, will also need time to get fit. In the meantime, those fans will wear them. “They sent out an acoustic force that could be understood as a signal: Schalke is back,” wrote Nils Balke-Barton in WAZ. They are aiming to survive this year, but Schalke’s presence is something the Bundesliga has missed.
Bayern Munich and Dortmund both maintained their 100% records (they are the only two to do so), which they have achieved in starkly contrasting ways. Bayern were once again dull against one of their favorite opponents, Wolfsburg, who have had far worse visits to the Allianz Arena than the 2-0 defeat on Sunday. “It was about administration,” said Julian Nagelsmann, who enjoyed control of his team’s performance after last week’s explosiveness, “which we didn’t always do well last year.” It was a good afternoon for Thomas Müller in particular, who scored the second and got one over on Niko Kovac, the coach who almost pushed him to the exit door at Bayern.
After hanging on against Leverkusen last week, BVB came back late at Freiburg after taking an early knock from the excellent hosts, who headed through Michael Gregoritsch. Edin Terzic’s substitutes turned it around in the final quarter – 18-year-old Englishman Jamie Bynoe-Gittens got his senior debut goal with a well-struck long-ranger that Mark Flekken should have saved, before fellow teenager Youssoufa Moukoko and Marius Wolf struck to win the game . Jude Bellingham, a comparative veteran of 19, hailed the impact of “my sons” on social media.
Leipzig hailed the return of Timo Werner, who looked a little rusty, but marked his comeback with the opener against Cologne thanks to another generous display of goalkeeping, with Marvin Schwäbe diving over his shot. Still, the hosts took the lead twice, with Josko Gvardiol’s unlucky own goal giving Steffen Baumgarts’ side a point. Domenico Tedesco was happy with his team despite still waiting for a first win. “A lot of teams that had to deal with what we did today would have lost,” argued the coach.
Leverkusen’s start has been worrying, with one of the favorites to grab Bayern’s coattails sitting bottom of the table having lost three competitive games out of three (when including the Pokal embarrassment at third-tier Elversberg). This weekend’s home loss to Augsburg was one of those afternoons in what has been one of the seasons so far – Die Werkselv has had his moments in all three games – with Rafal Gikiewicz making a string of saves and Amine Adli breaking his collarbone in his first game back after four months out for Gerardo Seoane’s side. André Hahn’s determined winner secured a first win for the visitors’ rookie coach Enrico Maaßen – recently arrived from Dortmund’s second team – after last week’s chastening Bundesliga debut defeat at home to Freiburg.