With 2020 being an outlier year due to the pandemic, it's no surprise that Wednesday's DFL-Supercup clash -- watch LIVE on ESPN+, 2.30p ET (U.S. only) -- of German giants, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, carries a different dynamic and feel than usual. Whereas the high profile fixture since first coming under the DFL (German Football League) umbrella in 2010 has served to whet appetites for the Bundesliga season to come, this year given the crammed calendar, it has landed on a midweek date 2 rounds into an already wild league campaign.
Bayern and Dortmund, in that order, have represented the German gold standard in recent years, but neither side glittered in remarkable away defeats this past weekend. Hoffenheim and Augsburg showed that with clever tactics properly executed, the league's "big two" are beatable.
Hoffenheim, the first team to overcome the Rekordmeister in any competition since Dec. 7 2019, ending a 32-match unbeaten Bayern run in all competitions, are now coached by Sebastian Hoeness. Yes, Hoeness of that same parish as Bayern's rarely reticent honorary president, Uli. His nephew, in fact. I must confess, I doubted I'd ever be reflecting on Hoeness thumping Bayern!
Why did Bayern sag so spectacularly in Sinsheim? Aside from fatigue factors emanating from their grueling, 120-minute effort against Sevilla in the UEFA Supercup in Budapest earlier that week, both Hoffenheim and Hoeness came prepared for Bayern's customary high-pressing approach and mostly nullified it by playing directly over the press. There were 31 long balls from goalkeeper Oliver Baumann; in one case, it resulted in a goal five touches later.
Aware of Bayern's high line, Hoffenheim used quick, piercing balls into the belly of a wobbly rearguard. It helps, of course, to have a commanding attacker like Andrej Kramaric causing havoc, and it's no surprise Bayern legend Lothar Matthäus, now a TV analyst, has recommended that his former club sign the nimble Croatian international.
In a wide-open game, Hoffenheim created substantially more chances than the European club champions even with much less of the ball, putting eight of their 17 attempts on target. Hoeness also made sure his team, anchored by a flexible back five without the ball, maintained discipline, with record signing Diadie Samassékou giving a master class in how to exert an influence on a midfield area full of top-class opponents.
For Hansi Flick, it was a chastening experience against a team he has served both as coach and sporting director in the past; rarely do you see a Bayern side with so many players off their game at the same time.
At right-back, World Cup winner Benjamin Pavard had his shakiest outing since joining from Stuttgart. David Alaba and Jerome Boateng exuded little confidence in the middle, while in the wide areas, Serge Gnabry and Leroy Sane were a far cry from the stars of the opening night 8-0 show against Schalke. Robert Lewandowski, serving as a Bundesliga substitute for the first time in two years, was well-marshalled by Stefan Posch and Kevin Vogt after coming on for Joshua Zirkzee in the 58th minute.
A day earlier, Dortmund had crashed to a 2-0 reverse in Augsburg against a team more limited in ability and ambition than Hoffenheim, but who stuck relentlessly to their plan around set-pieces and the occasional sizzling counter-attack. As was expected, Dortmund had plenty of possession (73%), but mostly made heavy weather of it with an overly slow and laborious rhythm of build-up play from midfield. This allowed Augsburg defenders in particular Jeffrey Gouweleeuw and Felix Uduokhai, to successfully contain a fluid, but markedly youthful Dortmund front four of Jude Bellingham, Gio Reyna, Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland.
Dortmund coach Lucien Favre must consider the balance in attack and whether fielding a pair of 17- and 20-year-olds, no matter how gifted, represents the right mix against doggedly streetwise opponents, buoyed by 6,000 fans that were vocally happy to be getting a taste of football again. The Dortmund kids with their flicks and tricks are eye catching and often effective, but perhaps not all at once when Marco Reus and Julian Brandt are both available.
In the event, to add to the empty feeling within the Dortmund camp after the weekend, a former Schalke player was the undoing of Borussia Dortmund. Freekick specialist Daniel Caligiuri, 32 years young, set up Uduokhai's header for the opener before getting on the end of Florian Niederlechner's threaded pass for the second goal.
Dortmund in their core are a better team when playing at pace on the break. In this sense, the SuperCup might be a more appealing assignment for many in black and gold than was Saturday's trip to Augsburg. Favre and his coaching staff should certainly have learned a bit about how to damage Bayern from watching Hoffenheim, just as the Kraichgau club learned from Sevilla. Meanwhile, it's expected that Bayern have conducted a thorough analysis of their Hoffenheim clobbering and Flick conceded at his media conference on Tuesday that "a few guidelines in our game weren't so well implemented."
What Bayern tend to implement so efficiently is their match plan at home against their chief German rivals. For evidence, look no further than wins by margins of 4-0, 5-0 and 6-0 in the teams' last 3 meetings at the Allianz Arena. Sane is definitely out for Bayern, with a right knee capsular injury, and will be until after the international break, while Alaba is also a doubt. No matter what happens against BVB, it's reasonable to question whether the Bayern squad as a whole is deep enough for the unprecedented demands this season will bring. Transfer activity must still be anticipated before the modified summer window closes on Oct. 5.
Dortmund can possibly welcome back Lukasz Piszczek and Nico Schulz following the recent return from injury of Raphael Guerreiro. However Jadon Sancho and Roman Bürki haven't made the trip due to respiratory infections.
The COVID-19 situation in Munich means no fans may attend the DFL-Supercup -- the infection rate per 10,000 people was 37.58, slightly above the "acceptable" level of 35 over the past seven days -- but the game will attract huge interest across Germany and around the world. "Ein Prestigeduell auf Augenhöhe" is the German way of summing it up -- "a prestigious duel of equals." But sometimes, one club can be more equal than the other! A fascinating watch awaits as the never-ending assessment of Germany's big two continues.