Bundesliga is back: King Lewy hits 40 again as Bayern win against bleak Berlin backdrop

By Sports Desk May 17, 2020

Robert Lewandowski had been away longer than the Bundesliga.

But in a world where uncertainty surrounds us, there was still a certain inevitability the Pole would make the difference for Bayern Munich at Union Berlin.

A penalty got him there, after Neven Subotic carelessly booted Leon Goretzka, and Benjamin Pavard's late header made the points safe.

And so that's 40 goals again for Lewandowski, reaching that dizzying mark for a fifth season in succession, with eight Bundesliga games remaining and Champions League and DFB Pokal campaigns to complete.

The striker missed Bayern's three games immediately prior to the German season being suspended in March, after hurting his knee in Bayern's 3-0 hush-hushing of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

But Lewandowski is back in time for Bayern to renew their assault on success at home and in Europe, and given his first 40 goals of the campaign came in just 34 games, what price him making it to the half-century before the season's end?

The penalty, calmly slotted to the bottom right corner after a twitchy run-up, rewarded Bayern for a strong enough first-half showing, one in which they had already seen a Thomas Muller tap-in disallowed after a VAR check.

That had been a classic marginal call - the sort for which we almost became nostalgic during football's grim hiatus.

And of course the goal, when it arrived in the 40th minute, was met by near silence, which is going to take some getting used to.

This is a centenary year for Union's old-school ground, the Stadion An der Alten Forsterei (Stadium of the Old Forestry), and the flag-flying and scarf-waving that is usually such a feature was replaced by the barest of backdrops.

Banks of empty seats can provide colour, but empty terraces speak of bleak times, and there are three major standing areas at Union - one at each end and another running the length of the pitch.

Taking into account the fact each terrace would benefit from a lick of paint, or a truckful, there was a majorly austere vibe to this occasion, and the once-familiar energy and noise isn't returning any time soon.

But Germany could take a bow after an apparently successful weekend. Its decision to bring back the Bundesliga - the first of Europe's major leagues to return - came on the back of the country's seemingly effective steps to control the COVID-19 spread.

The reproduction - or R - rate is reported to be around a manageable 0.75, and while the country is close to reaching 8,000 deaths from the pandemic, that figure is tragically dwarfed elsewhere in Western Europe. The United Kingdom and Italy have passed 30,000 and Spain and France are not far away from that grim mark.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and her team have left governments elsewhere pondering their own handling of the crisis, and the Bundesliga has struck a similarly effective tone.

The return of football in South Korea had a sense of the shambolic about it, but in Germany there has been impressive social distancing, substitutes sitting several seats away from each other in the stands, leaving the pitchside dugouts to coaching staff.

Face masks, too, were on show. Besides the players on the field and the head coaches roaming the touchlines, it was difficult to spot anybody not masked up.

It is such small things, however sobering, that seep back into society. It's about setting an example, and given Bayern's trip to the German capital was being broadcast worldwide, it was not a small audience that was witnessing the German way of operating.

Bayern weren't great, incidentally, but their lead is back up to four points after being trimmed by Borussia Dortmund on Saturday.

And head coach Hansi Flick has now seen his team plunder 50 goals in his 16 Bundesliga matches since taking charge – a record quick time for reaching the landmark.

An eighth successive Bundesliga title is likely but not inevitable, given Dortmund, with the likes of Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho, are such an exciting proposition.

Bayern and Dortmund must still meet in Der Klassiker. Fans or no fans, that should still amount to a great occasion.

But Bayern are now unbeaten in their last 16 matches, interim coach Flick has become permanent coach Flick, and Lewandowski is at it again. The rust will surely fall away.

Beyond Germany, Bayern's great goal-getter might not have the starry cachet of a Messi or a Ronaldo. Within Germany, the last two months have changed nothing: here, they still bow at the feet of king Lewy.

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    Hansi Flick can still see room for improvement from his Bayern Munich side despite brushing aside Schalke 4-0 to move seven points clear at the top of the Bundesliga.

    The reigning champions capitalised on RB Leipzig's shock defeat at Mainz by seeing off Schalke, the division's bottom side, at the Veltins-Arena on Sunday.

    Thomas Muller scored either side of Robert Lewandowski's record-breaking goal - netting in an eighth successive away league match - before David Alaba got in on the act in the final minute.

    Bayern did not have things all their own way in the first half, though, with Manuel Neuer reacting well to keep out Mark Uth's header from the best of Schalke's opportunities.

    Flick is pleased his side have rediscovered their form with three wins in a row since suffering back-to-back losses earlier this month, but he acknowledged there is still more to come.

    "I'm not entirely happy with what we showed," he told Sky Sport. "We scored four goals, but we should have done better, especially with the way we positioned ourselves.

    "However, I am very satisfied with the nine points with have obtained from the last three games. After defeats to Holstein Kiel [in the DFB-Pokal] and Monchengladbach, it was important to find stability.

    "We now have a certain cushion, but it is still important that we approach every game the way we have approached the last few games, that we perform 100 per cent. 

    "We're going to take two days off now. This is important to clear your head from time to time. From Wednesday, we will then prepare intensively for Hoffenheim."

    Bayern have now kept clean sheets in successive league games for the first time this term, with Neuer making three saves in total - all in the first half.

    Neuer's 197th shutout is a new Bundesliga record, surpassing Bayern great Oliver Kahn, but it was bittersweet coming against his beleaguered boyhood club.

    Schalke are bottom of the division with one win from 18 games but Neuer is hopeful they can avoid the drop.

    "Obviously, it's difficult for them against teams like us," he said. "I think that they have to beat two or three clubs that are in the lower half of the table, one after the other.

    "I wish the Schalke players luck that they can stay in the league and that they can still turn the tide. Of course, I'll keep my fingers crossed for that."

    Of his own team's display, which saw Bayern register a season-high 31 shots, Neuer said: "We improved and still had one or two more scoring chances. 

    "We certainly would have signed for a 4-0 win beforehand."

    Meanwhile, Muller's double took him to nine goals in 18 Bundesliga games this season, already beating his tally from the entirety of 2019-20.

    The forward, who scored a clinical header in each half, echoed the thoughts of Flick in saying his side were slightly flattered by the margin of the scoreline.

    "We neglected some aspects of our game," Muller said. "We besieged the opposing goal in the first half, played a few chances well, but the last action was missing.

    "Overall, you noticed that when we increased the pace and played our game, we were always able to get ourselves into good final positions. 

    "We have won all three games this week and made a giant leap forward in the table. That is what counts."

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    Second-place RB Leipzig suffered a shock loss to Mainz 05 on Saturday and Bayern took full advantage at the Veltins-Arena on Sunday, moving seven points clear at the top.

    Schalke are bottom of the table with one win all season but they more than matched the European champions before Muller's 33rd-minute breakthrough.

    Muller doubled his tally late on after Lewandowski had scored his latest record-breaking goal early in the second half, before David Alaba added further gloss at the death.

    The division's leading scorer Lewandowski glanced over the crossbar from close range early on before a better chance came and went for Mark Uth, who headed straight at Manuel Neuer from five yards out.

    Ralf Fahrmann was called into action with a fine double save to keep out Lewandowski's free-kick and Serge Gnabry's follow-up attempt. 

    Gnabry went close again when glancing the side-netting with a header he should have put away, but Bayern were in front seven minutes later through Muller's powerful header. 

    The attacking midfielder met Joshua Kimmich's back-post delivery and made no mistake in beating Fahrmann for his eighth league goal of the campaign. 

    Gnabry thought he had added a quickfire second after Leroy Sane's initial effort was parried, only for the offside flag to go up against the former Schalke winger.

    But the Bavarian giants did double their advantage early in the second period as Lewandowski controlled Kimmich's long ball, held off two defenders and slotted under Fahrmann.

    It is the 11th successive Bundesliga game in which Lewandowski has scored against Schalke and he nearly added another, dragging wide from 18 yards 20 minutes from time.

    Schalke are now without a win against Bayern in 21 league matches and badly faded in the closing stages, with Muller heading in from another Kimmich delivery and Alaba adding a fourth with a 30-yard drive that squirmed under Fahrmann.

  • Mesut Ozil leaves Arsenal: How an ideal relationship ended in a necessary divorce Mesut Ozil leaves Arsenal: How an ideal relationship ended in a necessary divorce

    Mesut Ozil and Arsenal have officially gone their separate ways after seven and a half years together. 

    What was once a seemingly ideal football marriage has come to an end. Long since removed from the pedestal where he was once placed by Arsenal fans, Ozil has cut short his stay with the Gunners.

    Having coveted him for so long, Fenerbahce have got their man. The 32-year-old heads to Turkey, aiming to kick-start a career that had not so much stagnated of late but come to a complete standstill.

    Left out of Arsenal's squads for domestic and European duties this season, his most telling contribution in the final months of his career at the club was seemingly offering to cover the wages of mascot Gunnersaurus.

    The union had become broken to the point of no return in the closing stages, but there were plenty of good times before the inevitable break-up.

    FALLING HEAD OVER HEELS

    Ozil arrived at Arsenal in September 2013. The Gunners did not just break their transfer record to sign him from Real Madrid, they shattered it by paying around £42.5million.

    "This is an exciting day for all of us. We have signed a world-class player who is one of Europe's brightest young talents," said Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal's chief executive at the time, when the deal was announced.

    Gazidis was right: Ozil was 24, a Germany international and someone who had played regularly during three seasons in LaLiga. His departure from Madrid was not popular with players and fans alike in the Spanish capital, but a necessary consequence of a spending spree that included bringing in Gareth Bale from Tottenham.

    Arsenal's big-name recruit did not take long to make an impact, setting up a goal for Olivier Giroud 11 minutes into his Premier League debut away at Sunderland. It would be the first of many laid on for the Frenchman, who benefited more than any other team-mate from the playmaker's abilities.

    Ozil's eye for a pass and talent for producing subtle moments of skill saw him quickly enchant the club's fanbase. How could they possibly do anything but fall for him?

    His opening year in England saw him score five goals and contribute nine assists in 26 league appearances. He won the FA Cup, helping Arsene Wenger's side rally from an early 2-0 deficit to defeat Hull City 3-2 in the Wembley final. Two months later, he was lifting the World Cup in South Africa.


    THE GOLDEN YEARS

    Ozil's second season included a lengthy spell on the sidelines, restricting him to 22 outings in the Premier League. He did help them retain the FA Cup though, this time with a comprehensive 4-0 victory over Aston Villa.

    However, the Gunners saw the best of him in the two years that followed. In 2015-16, he laid on 19 assists – one shy of Thierry Henry's record – and created 146 chances, the latter number the most by any player in the competition for a single season since 2003-04. He was also the subject of seemingly thousands of Twitter memes, too.

    Arsenal ended up second in the final table, 10 points behind surprise champions Leicester City. The glass half-full type pointed to it being their best finish in 11 years, while the less optimistic sort strongly suggested it was more a missed opportunity.

    The following season was Ozil's best in terms of Premier League goals – eight in 33 games – but another possible title challenge faded after the turn of the year, leading to a finish outside the top four. There was yet another FA Cup success to at least ease the pressure on Wenger, but their streak of participating in the Champions League was over.

    Then, in February 2018, came Ozil's new contract. "I signed dat thing," he tweeted at the time, having committed through to 2021. Wenger was with him in the picture, though nobody knew at the time that the manager was coming towards the end of his tenure.

    A lucrative deal handed out to ward off potential suitors and tie down one of the club's leading names appeared a necessity at the time but would quickly become a millstone around the player's neck. The reported weekly salary was referenced so often in the media it should have been added to his name by deed poll.

    In terms of his future output, Ozil managed a mere six goals and five assists in 48 league games after the moment he put pen to paper for three more years.


    DRIFTING APART AND THE INEVITABLE SPLIT

    Relations became strained as Ozil shifted from eye-catching centrepiece to expensive luxury. The focus had switched from how much he produced on the ball to what he didn't do without it. The phasing-out process began during the Unai Emery reign, then led to him being completely ostracised by former team-mate Mikel Arteta.

    Yet it is easy to forget that he did start in the Spaniard's first game in charge, away at Bournemouth. "To be fair, his attitude in training since the day that I walked in the building has been incredible," Arteta told reporters after the 1-1 draw on Boxing Day in 2019.

    Still, six months later, when the Premier League returned following the coronavirus-enforced break, Arteta's tune had changed somewhat. After completely omitting Ozil from the squad to face Manchester City in June in the first game back, Arteta said: "I'm going to put him on the pitch when I think he can give his best.”

    There were two more fixtures when Ozil made the bench, only to be an unused substitute on both occasions. The 2019-20 season saw him play 18 times in the league and he managed a solitary goal and two assists. His final outing for the club came on March 3, 2020 – a 1-0 home victory over West Ham.

    Across his Arsenal career, Ozil provided 54 assists. Only Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne (75) and David Silva (62), plus Tottenham's Christian Eriksen (62), contributed more assists for their teams since Ozil's arrival in England. When it comes to chances created, only Eriksen (571) beats Ozil's total of 558 – and the Dane played over 40 games more.

    And yet, as the divorce is confirmed, there is a sense of relief for all involved that it is all over. It was fun, for a while, but the time is right to move on.

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