Borussia Dortmund make fast start as Bundesliga offers first glimpse of new normal

A 4-0 win over rivals Schalke moved Lucien Favre's side to within one point of leaders Bayern, who play on Sunday

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It was the first glimpse of the new normal and it transpired that it had certain similarities with the old one. The Bundesliga was stripped of spectators and atmosphere, Germany’s biggest ground deserted and new protocols adding a dystopian surrealness to the occasion, but Borussia Dortmund carried on winning and Erling Braut Haaland still scored.

There was something reassuring about the Norwegian's lovely strike, though not for Schalke, who were routed by local rivals. There was something symbolic, too. The Bundesliga prides itself on youth and goals and as it became the first of Europe's top five leagues to return, Dortmund's striking wunderkind scored the opening goal of the new era and their attack-minded team registered its first thrashing. Football has not changed completely.

Victory took Borussia to within a point of leaders Bayern Munich, who play on Sunday. It may not be remembered for those reasons, though Dortmund’s biggest Bundesliga win over Schalke since 1966 must rank as a famous result in the Ruhr Valley.

This was a Revierderby with a difference and not merely because Dortmund beat neighbours, who have been something of a bogey team for them of late.

This was among the first of German football’s Geisterspielen; or ghost games. Instead of the Westfalenstadion’s famous Yellow Wall there was a mass of empty seats, an edifice of noise replaced by a mausoleum of quiet. The soundtrack came instead from shouts from the dugout and pitch.

Dortmund’s normal average home gate is 81,154; Schalke, who have the third highest average attendance, are accustomed to playing in front of more than 60,000, not a mere 300.

The players walked out to “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with images of supporters, though there were none. Those rather lonely footballers wore masks in the tunnel, Dortmund’s a fetching yellow and black affair; substitutes kept them on while on the bench, an empty seat between each to comply with social-distancing restrictions, and Thomas Delaney donned one seconds after being replaced. Even goal celebrations were socially distanced, just as Dortmund took the acclaim of an empty Yellow Wall at the end.

And yet this amounted to an advertisement for their progressiveness and professionalism and for German football as a whole. It was a successful comeback for both Lucien Favre’s team and the Bundesliga, which is offering a roadmap to its rivals.

Often overshadowed by its English, Spanish and Italian counterparts, it took centre stage in Europe and one of the continent’s biggest derbies brought an emphatic win and excellent strikes as Dortmund’s slow start gave way to a high-calibre performance.

It debunked the theory football can’t be played without fans. German football has become associated with intensity and without match practice, Dortmund in particular eased their way back into proceedings. But any sense it felt like a glorified friendly was dismissed as slickness and quickness returned to their passing, they looked fit and fast and there was an abundance of quality. Their four goals were classy affairs.

Haaland’s was his first for 84 days, though his drought only spanned three games, and a 10th in nine Bundesliga appearances, a record rendered all the more impressive as three were from the bench. It was a beautiful strike. Julian Brandt supplied a backheel flick, Thorgan Hazard a curling cross and Haaland the cushioned first-time finish, guided past Markus Schubert.

The ubiquitous Brandt flourished. He set up the second, too, after a poor clearance from Schalke’s rookie goalkeeper Schubert, sliding a pass into the path of the overlapping wing-back Raphael Guerreiro. The Portugal international rifled in a shot and later completed a brace with an outside-of-the-boot finish after a one-two with Haaland.

Hazard added the third, completing a counter-attack with a crisp finish from Brandt’s pass. The Belgian was not due to start, with Jadon Sancho confined to the bench for the first 78 minutes and the 17-year-old American prodigy Giovanni Reyna slated for a maiden start. But then he was injured in the warm-up. Enter Hazard and, amid talk of the risk to footballers, he proved a menace to Schalke.

Adversity worked in Dortmund’s favour. Talent told. Hazard showed the depth of their resources in the absence of the injured Axel Witsel, Emre Can and Marco Reus while Brandt was the game’s most creative player, Haaland its most threatening striker and Guerreiro its most dangerous runner from deep.

It ended as a damaging day for Schalke, denting their hopes of Champions League qualification as they dropped to eighth; a team with a negative goal difference have only scored once in five matches.

They struggled to mount a response after going behind and while manager David Wagner made a half-time double switch, it did not alter the momentum.

He made five substitutions in total, another indication of how Covid-19 is remodelling football, but the four goals from Dortmund’s starters mattered rather more.