It has become one of the Bundesliga’s iconic sights. When Borussia Mönchengladbach win, Marcus Thuram picks one of his teammates’ shirts and, wearing a beaming grin, sits it atop one of the corner flags before removing the pole from the turf and flying the makeshift flag in front of the Kurve.
After this special win, Gladbach’s first of the season and in the derby at Köln to boot, Thuram selected the shirt of Stefan Lainer, the team’s right-back and the scorer of the second goal. Performing the ritual wasn’t easy – as RP’s Jannik Sorgatz pointed out, “Lainer’s jersey was too wet and heavy” after hours of torrential rain but it didn’t dampen the visitors’ mood, and Thuram was not too deterred, as he hadn’t been through a typically industrious afternoon. Neither was the Frenchman put off by the heckles of 300 home fans, whose insults were clearer than normal in a near-empty RheinEnergie Stadion.
This derby retains its sense of self, even in these unusual times, a lesson we already learned back in mid-March when the two teams met at Borussia-Park in what was the Bundesliga’s first Geisterspiel, on an eerie Wednesday evening with a couple of hundred Gladbach fans huddled on the concourse outside (even if the occasion was not even seven months ago, it already feels like a relic of its time). The intensity spilled over in Cologne’s city centre on Saturday, with a fight between rival fans outside a restaurant in the Zülpicher Strasse party mile that saw a section of the area cordoned off, the U-Bahn diverted and 13 people arrested.
It had been hoped many more law-abiding fans would be part of the occasion, the 91st derby between the two, with Köln planning for a 9,200 capacity for the match until the level of Covid infections led the health department to instruct the club to cancel tickets and prepare to play behind closed doors. Köln’s chief executive, Alexandre Wehrle, made his frustration clear, and did so again pre-game after the late decision to allow a tiny proportion of those fans in.
“Proportionality is not maintained when an amateur game takes place with 300 spectators,” complained Wehrle, “and we play without fans. On Friday at 6.20pm we were informed [by local authorities] by email that we could play with 300 fans. That is, of course, madness to have to then contact everyone again. Nobody understands anymore.” It was, though, the first home game with any fans since the 3-0 win over Schalke in February, back in the days when Köln were chasing Europe and David Wagner still had relative job security.
Marcus Gisdol’s side have won just one game in the Bundesliga since – which was the week straight after that, at eventual bottom side Paderborn. They are now 13 without a league victory and from the off it was Gladbach who brought the intensity here, swarming all over the hosts in the opening 20 minutes with Köln disorganised and desperately grabbing for any sort of hold in the game.
They had a few brief moments, when Sebastian Andersson hit a post at 2-0 down after an uncharacteristic Yann Sommer slip and when Elvis Rexhebacaj pulled the score back to 3-1 with a rocket from range in the closing stages, but there was to be no comeback special. The blame for the current predicament can’t all be heaped on Gisdol – former sporting director Armin Veh spoke on Sport 1 on Sunday of how he had to “summon my energy for trench warfare” while working at the club – but the former Hoffenheim coach is the most likely to carry the can.
It’s even harder to swallow when those fans, inside the stadium and out, see the progress Gladbach have made under Marco Rose. Their dash and style have taken them into the company of Real Madrid and Inter in the Champions League, and Thuram will doubtless have many more moments of waving his flag as the season unfolds.
• Robert Lewandowski again saved the day for Bayern, who let slip a 2-0 and a 3-2 lead at home to Hertha but the Pole scored four, including a late penalty which he cannily won from Maximilian Mittelstädt. “We have to work on the defensive side of things together,” said Hansi Flick with a hint of understatement, with his team currently holding the joint third-worst record in the division. Flick’s desire for squad reinforcements is being sated at least, with Espanyol’s promising midfielder Marc Roca having joined and Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting, Marseille right-back Bouna Sarr and the returning Douglas Costa (loan) on the way.
• Hertha, meanwhile, continue to be one of the Bundesliga’s most intriguing teams, and have plenty to look forward to despite their loss. Jhon Córdoba and Matheus Cunha, both on the scoresheet, again looked formidable. “We conceded simple goals, which was especially painful because Bayern didn’t create a lot of great chances,” said Bruno Labbadia after a 26th straight Hertha visit to Munich without a win.
• No Jadon Sancho, no problem for Dortmund, who swept aside Freiburg 4-0 after two straight defeats, and after a sticky opening half-hour at Signal Iduna Park. The England winger and goalkeeper Roman Bürki missed out for the second straight game with non-Covid-related respiratory infections, with the club laughing off a suggestion in Swedish media (curiously) that it was cover for a forthcoming Sancho move to Manchester United. In his absence Erling Haaland scored twice though it was Gio Reyna – the “American Dream”, as Haaland calls him – running the show. The Norwegian also received praise for passing up the chance of a hat-trick at the death, instead laying on an easy tap-in for Felix Passlack to score his debut first-team goal. “He distilled the team’s spirit,” beamed general manager, Sebastian Kehl.
• If Schalke’s new coach, Manuel Baum, was in any doubt about the size of task facing him, that can no longer be the case after Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing at Leipzig. New goalkeeper Frederik Rönnow talked about Baum taking the team through “a lot of tactical work” and they looked solid in a 3-5-2 shape for the first half-hour, but it quickly fell apart after Can Bozdogan’s own goal.
• Karim Bellarabi wasn’t exactly Mr Popular in the Leverkusen dressing room on Saturday night. His side were cruising at Stuttgart after taking an early lead via Patrik Schick’s header before the winger intervened, committing a silly foul on Roberto Massimo before confronting him and grabbing him by the nose, a “goofy” action, according to Peter Bosz, but one for which Bellarabi escaped a red card. No matter – from the resulting free-kick, Sasa Kalajdzic headed an equaliser to extract maximum punishment. “The mistake was that the free-kick ever happened,” lamented goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky to Sky.
• Max Kruse is back in business. OK, he’s not quite as fit as he might be yet – and admitted afterwards that “I just wasn’t fast enough” to finish one delivery from Sheraldo Becker – but he notched his first Bundesliga goal for Union Berlin in a 4-0 demolition of Mainz that flattered the visitors. Despite sacking Achim Beierlorzer through the week, the 05ers already look desperate and could lose further key players before today’s transfer deadline.