Big wins for Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund won’t quiet Bundesliga Big Two speculation


Three years ago, Borussia Dortmund weren’t even in Europe. Two years before that, Wolfsburg won Germany’s title. Still, over the last two years, there’s been an increased willingness to paint the German Bundesliga with the same brush we do most European leagues, trying to reduce everything to a couple of haves and a litany of have-nots. While the success of Bayern Munich and Dortmund led to some minor La Liga-fication of the circuit, we need more evidence before saying the Bundesliga’s set to join the likes of Spain, Portugal, Ukraine, the Netherlands, and potentially France (thanks, Monaco) in their big two dynamics.

That said, the first match day of the Bundesliga season won’t do anything to quiet that speculation. Both of last year’s Champions League finalists strolled to easy opening weekend wins, and while they weren’t the only ones in Germany to post convincing results on the season’s first match day, there’s nicely confirm any bias that this German campaign will be decided by the league’s current big two.

Friday’s opening by Bayern Munich doesn’t look like a big win on paper, the defending champions “only” posting a two-goal win over visiting Broussia Moenchengladbach, but the manner in which they did it was almost scary. Against a team that had given them problems on their two previous visits to the Allianz Arena, Bayern struck twice in the first 16 minutes. Although they gave one back before halftime, Dante’s own goal pulling Moenchengladbach within one, David Alaba’s mid-second half penalty kick sealed Bayern’s opening win. They more than doubled their opponents shots on goal (13-6) while holding 59 percent of possession, living up to the expectations of Pep Guardiola’s FCB debut.

A day later, Borussia Dortmund gave us reason to think they may be ready to put up a bigger challenge. Last year, Dortmund finished 25 points behind Bayern (notably, only one point ahead of third place Bayer Leverkusen). On Saturday, however, three goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the Gabonese attacker’s Bundesliga debut paved the way to a 4-0 victory at Ausburg, with Robert Lewandowski’s conversion from the spot sealing the game late.

Aubameyang’s stellar opener will temporarily quell doubts Mario Götze’s departure could derail Dortmund. If anything, people may be talking about the new dynamic he brings to the team. Whereas last year’s addition of Marco Reus from Moenchengladbach gave Jurgen Klopp a complement to play with Götze, Aubameyang provides the team a more out-and-out goalscorer, somebody who was thought to be the eventual successor to Lewandowski. That may still happen next summer, when the Polish international moves to Bayern, but in the interim, Aubameyang gives BVB a different look – somebody who may end up scoring more goals than either Reus or Götze provided last year.

After one week, Hertha Berlin sit top of the table, their 6-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt proving a rousing return to the top flight. And like Bayern, Bayer Leverkusen also put up a 3-1 win at home, hinting they could again threaten the top two.

Yet three days into the Bundesliga season, the might of Bayern and Dortmund is evident. While that doesn’t necessarily confirm the idea Germany’s developed a Big Two scenario, it certainly doesn’t dispel the notion.

Champions League preview: Spurs host Leipzig, Valencia visits Atalanta

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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties kickoff Wednesday, including one being labeled as the biggest in a club’s existence.

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That would be Serie A side Atalanta, which hosts Valencia at 3 p.m. at Gewiss Stadium.

Atalanta had played in two consecutive Europa Leagues, but this is their first move into the Champions League. To make the knockout rounds is exceptional, and club president Antonio Percassi is fired up.

“We must be honest, this is the most important game in the history of this club,” Percassi told Sky Sport Italia. “It doesn’t seem real. It’s exciting just thinking that tomorrow we’ll be in a Champions League Round of 16. It’s wonderful for our fans too. … This is going to be a unique experience that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.”

Atalanta finished second in its group to Manchester City, and is fourth in Serie A. Valencia won its group.

There’s a Premier League side in action on Wednesday, too, as Spurs begin life without Heung-Min Son.

Jose Mourinho spun a tale about how badly Tottenham will need its fans against RB Leipzig, comparing the home-field advantage to an emergency rescue crew of sorts.

Leipzig is led by Julian Nagelsmann, who was once referred to as “Baby Mourinho” by his players.

The 32-year-old was quick to distance himself from the story.

“Tomorrow it is Leipzig against Tottenham, not Mourinho v. Baby Mourinho,” he said. “I have great respect for Mourinho. He has won lots of titles with big clubs, the Champions League twice. He has made his mark on European football at some big European clubs. I think it his 59th knockout game in the CL and it is my first so there is obviously respect there.”

Liverpool’s Robertson not a fan of Atletico Madrid theatrics

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Liverpool fullback Andy Robertson was not impressed with Atletico Madrid’s display as his side fell 1-0 in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Reds fell behind on a fourth-minute Saul Niguez goal and couldn’t get a shot on target despite 73 percent possession in Spain.

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Atleti executed its plan to near-perfection, slowing restarts and taking advantage of counterattacking opportunities to assuage the constant pressure of Liverpool.

At times it was reminiscent of early-century Italian national team play, and both neutrals and Liverpool knew what they were in for once Atleti took the lead.

“We gave them the best possible start to get the fans behind them and then they can start falling over and things like that, trying to get under our skin a bit which I think we handled quite well to be honest,” Robertson told BT Sport. “We know we are better than (how they played). We put in a decent performance and we can be better than that. Luckily we have got a second leg to put it right.”

Given the performance and the reputation, you’d still fancy the Reds to “put it right” at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp thinks Atleti will feel plenty of pressure at Anfield, and he will certainly feel the officiating will be more to his liking.

Liverpool’s Klopp: ‘Our people will be ready’ for second leg at Anfield

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Jurgen Klopp didn’t have any issue with Diego Simeone’s defense-first Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Spanish side flummoxed Liverpool’s attack and the Reds didn’t manage a shot on target despite eight attempts and 73 percent possession at the Wanda Metropolitano.

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What Klopp didn’t appreciate was the referee’s work, though, implying that Polish official Szymon Marciniak was overwhelmed by the occasion. Marciniak has worked UCL matches for six seasons, twice overseeing quarterfinal ties.

Klopp was shown a yellow card in the second half, and the Liverpool boss felt Sadio Mane was harassed by Atleti. Klopp removed yellow-carrying Mane at halftime.

“He was targeted obviously,” Klopp said after the game. “The only thing they wanted was to make sure he got a yellow card. The score is 1-0, that’s all but you need to be really strong as a ref in this atmosphere. So many things happened, after 30 minutes already three players were on the ground. The first yellow card was a striker from us. I’m not sure they even got a yellow card, which is funny.”

Atleti’s Angel Correa was shown a yellow, while Klopp, Mane, and Joe Gomez were cautioned for Liverpool.

The Liverpool boss found himself laughing a few times, especially when he was asked about Simeone’s touchline personality.

Klopp said before the game that if the German was a four in intensity, then Simeone was a 12. Simeone followed suit by constantly urging the crowd to get behind the home side on Tuesday.

That didn’t bother Klopp, but he issued a public relations officer’s dream in reacting to it.

“Wow, wow,” he laughed. “That’s energy. I don’t think I have to do it that much (at Anfield). Our people will be ready. Welcome to Anfield. It’s not over yet.”

Klopp finished his remarks by saying of Jordan Henderson‘s removal from the game with a hamstring injury, “I hope it was a precaution, but I’m not 100 percent sure”

Haaland wins first leg after Borussia Dortmund-PSG comes to life late

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Erling Haaland scored twice in a mid-second half flurry as Borussia Dortmund beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The hosts also got an assist from teenager Giovanni Reyna, who became the youngest American to appear in a Champions League match.

Haaland now has 39 goals in 29 appearances between Red Bull Salzburg and BVB, 11 of those for his new German employer.

Neymar scored off a Kylian Mbappe goal for PSG, who brings an away goal back to the Parc des Princes for a March 11 second leg.

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Neymar had an early free kick, missing just wide of the far post.

Jadon Sancho troubled the keeper twice in the first half hour, first with a cross that Mats Hummels headed over goal. Then, Keylor Navas picked another Sancho offering out of the air.

Sancho kept serving, and Erling Haaland couldn’t turn a promising cross on target.

Dortmund walked into halftime with a scoreless match but a 7-2 edge in shot attempts. Neither of PSG’s shots were on target.

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Borussia Dortmund boss Lucien Favre put in American teen Giovani Reyna in the 67th minute.

Two minutes later, it was 1-0 to the hosts through Haaland’s close-range goal.

Neymar replied from close range himself after a powerful, clever dribble from Kylian Mbappe led to a pass through the box.

But Haaland got his second in the 77th minute with a scorching shot that serves as the first senior assist of Reyna’s senior career with Dortmund (Watch it here).