Bundesliga: Brandt steps out of Sancho's shadow as Dortmund shine
- The Bundesliga returned on Saturday with a dominant display from Borussia Dortmund as they made light work of Schalke 04.
- Julian Brandt was the creative force for Dortmund in the centre of midfield as the side made a clear statement.
It was the Bundesliga, but not as we know it. A 4-0 win in the Revierderby should have been the main talking point as Borussia Dortmund cruised to victory over their rivals, but there were bigger factors to consider than the impressive performance and result.
With the match played behind closed doors, there was a haunting atmosphere at the Signal Iduna Park, and a degree of patience will be required as millions of television viewers around the world adapt to the echoing shouts from the bench, and players competing alongside eerie periods of silence.
Bundesliga sans fans
But this was a small price to pay in order to enjoy the return of one of Europe's top divisions. More countries will follow in the coming weeks and months, and the off-field terrace images, that define so many fixtures across the world, will be confined to the football landscape of memory for the time being at least.
However, there was familiarity in the unfamiliar as Erling-Braut Haaland continued his pre-lockdown form into the present day with a well-taken finish to put Borussia Dortmund ahead in the Revierderby. The unusual atmosphere and unprecedented world-wide audience clearly did little to alter matters on the field as far as the towering teenage Norwegian was concerned as he has been on a dream run for his new side in the Bundesliga.
With the talented Jadon Sancho taking his place on a social-distanced bench due to a minor calf issue, there was initial concern that the home side would lack creativity in attack without the assists and goals of the young English star on their Bundesliga return. However, Julian Brandt has been just as impressive in the shadow of his team-mate this season, and made the most of his moment in the spotlight.
Brandt provided the midfield creativity for the two opening half goals. Feeding Thorgan Hazard, who was a late starter following the injury to Giovanni Reyna during the warm-up, Hazard served Haaland from the right wing and the young striker made no mistake from close range.
Brandt again turned provider for Raphael Guerrerio just before half-time as the side capitalised on the defensive frailty of Schalke 04. Manager David Wagner responded for the visitors with a double change at the break, and while they started the second half with the same positive approach as the first, it proved equally impotent.
Hazard soon made it 3-0 as Schalke 04 again struggled to defend, and it was Brandt who stepped up in the absence of Sancho to deliver another assist. Brandt, who was clearly the catalyst to this Dortmund victory, turned 24 earlier this month, and the former Bayer Leverkusen man will play a key role in the remainder of this most unusual of seasons.
Dortmund boast a fine array of attacking talent, and their dynamic play in the final third has been the cornerstone to their Bundesliga title challenge. The youthful exuberance and raw ability of players like Sancho and Haaland have been the inspiration to the approach of Lucien Favre's team during the current campaign, and it was clear on Saturday that the enforced break has not knocked them off their stride.
Schalke 04 were clearly not at their strongest or at their best, and they will not be the only Bundesliga team to fall short as they make the return to competitive football. It is testament to Favre and his staff that Dortmund were able to switch themselves back on so easily after such a long break, and his side moved to within a point of the top of the table on Saturday.
Guerrerio added a fourth as he combined with Haaland on the edge of the area just after the hour mark, but the move started deeper in midfield with Brandt again spraying the ball wide. Embracing his central role in the midfield of a team enjoying the opportunity to totally dominate against their local rivals, the only element missing was the crowd to savour this sweetest of victories in one of the high-profile fixtures of the Bundesliga calendar.
Sancho made his introduction deep into the second half with the result already confirmed. While the atmosphere seemed surreal, it's worth remembering that young players like Sancho have only recently stopped playing in empty stadiums as part of their development through the intermediate ranks to the senior game. The Bundesliga players will adapt to this unusual environment quicker than the television audience.
Bundesliga has its time in the spotlight
The Bundesliga often sits in the shade of other top European leagues, and a combination of factors means that the new audience at its disposal were not treated to the very best of what it has to offer on this opening day of post-lockdown football. It will get better as the Bundesliga players readjust to a more natural routine.
He didn't get on the scoresheet, but Brandt's performance and contribution in this latest instalment of the Revierderby should be celebrated as Dortmund continue their pursuit of another Bundesliga title. Schalke 04 fans may have moved their face masks up over their eyes rather than witness this pretty inept display, but the team are better than this performance and scoreline suggest and should do well in the rest of their Bundesliga campaign.
A giant leap for the European game
The overriding memory of the match will be the fact that it marked the return of a major European league in the form of the Bundesliga. Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp recently described football as 'the most important of the unimportant things', and it sums up the situation perfectly.
No doubt Klopp was just as impressed by the display of his former club as we were, but also by what it represents for the immediate future of the game in these testing times.