Bundesliga warming up into a three-way title race
BERLIN – Last season's top three lead the way as the Bundesliga title race already begins to take shape after four matches.
RB Leipzig and Bayern Munich had to settle for a 1-1 draw in a match which could have gone either way in the weekend's top game, while Borussia Dortmund dismissed a Bayer Leverkusen side, an outside pretender to the crown, with an emphatic 4-0 victory.
It leaves Leipzig unbeaten after their first dropped points with 10 points at the top, a point ahead of Dortmund and two up on champions Bayern, whose points tally after four games is their worst in five years.
Although it is early in the season, all the indications are that it will be one of these three teams who will be playing for the Bundesliga title. Saturday's meeting in Leipzig was therefore closely scrutinized to see if the home side, now trained by Julian Nagelsmann, could emerge as the main threat to Bayern's quest for an eighth straight title.
On the evidence of the first half, it is clear that no one can write off Bayern, who controlled the game and led from an early Robert Lewandowski goal, only to concede a penalty, converted by Emil Forsberg in first-half stoppage time.
On the evidence of the second half though, Leipzig will be difficult to tame even though they could perhaps in the end have been the team more grateful for the point.
"We played sensationally in the first half, it was our best performance so far," Kovac said.
"We didn't allow them anything but should have made more of our dominance. We made life difficult for ourselves after that. We shouldn't have conceded the penalty after losing the ball.
"Leipzig changed their formation at half-time, we should have been more compact in midfield. It was an open contest then.
"At the end of the day the result is annoying. We had more chances, we played well but unfortunately squandered two points. We're looking at the bright side of the game: we turned in a really good display."
Nagelsmann said: "We didn't really have a grip in the first half, Bayern enjoyed much more time on the ball.
"Things went better in after the break, we had more possession and some chances. At the end of the day the draw may be a bit lucky but not necessarily undeserved."
As far as the league season is concerned, much will depend on how Nagelsmann's team copes with the strains of Champions League football, with a visit to Benfica coming up on Tuesday.
"It's always important to go into a midweek European match with some momentum from our league game," Nagelsmann said.
"We'll take a positive feeling with us to Lisbon and hopefully it will help us make a good start in the Champions League against Benfica."
Bayern meanwhile will welcome the visit of Red Star Belgrade on Wednesday as perhaps an opportunity to field new signings Philippe Coutino and Ivan Perisic, who were left on the bench in Leipzig.
Dortmund meanwhile have bounced back from a 3-1 defeat at Union Berlin in their last league outing by trouncing Leverkusen 4-0 with two goals from Marco Reus and one each from Paco Alcacer and Raphael Guerreiro.
Anything but a win would have led to serious questions for coach Lucien Favre, but he can now look ahead to Tuesday's visit of Barcelona in the Champions League with confidence restored.
"It's important to remain calm, and that's exactly what the team managed to do today," Favre said.
"We didn't make any major mistakes. We have to continue in the same vein. It's important that we keep clean sheets. We can play possession-based football, but we can also play on the counter-attack. We did a great job today."
Bayern will now look forward to making up ground in the league next Saturday when they welcome promoted Cologne, while Leipzig and Dortmund have tricky away games, at Werder Bremen and Eintracht Frankfurt respectively.dpa