It must have been sweet, even if he hid it well; 114 days after his exit from Borussia Dortmund, Marco Rose was back in the coaching saddle with RB Leipzig – for an immediate confrontation with his former employers. If there was a mildly awkward touchline embrace with his predecessor, and successor, Edin Terzić, before kick-off, the rest of Saturday afternoon couldn’t have been smoother for Rose.
After a torrid start to the season, with successive four-goal beatings by Eintracht Frankfurt and Shakhtar Donetsk drawing the curtains on the Domenico Tedesco era, Leipzig cruised to a 3-0 win, giving Rose the perfect debut on the bench. He wouldn’t be lured into discussing any lingering animosity, insisting there was none (“I made some great friends there”) despite the relatively short time since the split. “In the end,” he told Sky, “it didn’t fit together any more, and I had to go. But life goes on.”
Clearly it’s easier to be magnanimous when one has handed those former employers a lesson, even if it rarely felt like a ‘look at what you’re missing’ kind of display. Rose’s season in Dortmund began with much expectation and was not easy. He arrived on the defensive; his three months of serving notice in spring and summer at Borussia Mönchengladbach were uncomfortable, even borderline unpleasant. His new employers had paid €5m to get him out of Gladbach and if they weren’t expecting the Bundesliga title, they were expecting something – direction, drive, a plan.
So while BVB finished in their accustomed second place behind Bayern, it felt like a campaign of bare minimums. Rose’s team were humbled in the Champions League by Ajax and Sporting, looked a rabble in their Europa League exit to Rangers and were dumped out of the DfB Pokal – which Terzić had helped them win in fine style the previous season – by second-tier St Pauli.
There were extenuating circumstances. The cut of the squad for one, which lacked focus and balance. It felt as if Rose had gone in to sort out a garage which had more cobwebs and unpacked old boxes than he had bargained for. He was widely expected to get his second series but when he turned up for his metaphorical meeting at the BBC, Tony Hares – or CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke – had different ideas. The post-season chat revealed unbridgeable gaps, and Rose was gone.
Some, wanting to put his influence on this debut win into perspective, will point out the paucity of threat from the opponents. There is no doubt this was a poor BVB on the day, still searching for a distinct identity under Terzić, who is inheriting the problems left by a coach who took on a series of issues from him, and round and round we go. Dortmund were sluggish and powderpuff in defence and midfield, and failed to get a shot on target in a Bundesliga game for the first time in almost three years.
Leipzig, though, fizzed with “intensity, mentality and energy”, as Dominik Szoboszlai, the scorer of a spectacular second goal after the dozing Jude Bellingham was dispossessed, put it. His words (unwittingly, perhaps) revealed all that had been missing under Tedesco, where possession was valued but something more typical of this club and their model was missing. This was less ball, more dynamism.
Rose was always going to be able to do that pretty quickly. Born in Leipzig, a former RB Salzburg head coach before continuing his career in Germany, the new man understands the tone and the playbook. Clearly his arrival, and a sense of the familiar, is popular in the dressing room. The restoration of Emil Forsberg to the XI for the first time this season was not insignificant. Rose is not oblivious to this either. “We stand for a certain way of playing at RB,” he acknowledged. “The boys have that in the tank. They know how to do it and how it works. They’ve all done it before.”
The question with Rose is not over the short-term but the medium-term. It felt as if Leipzig were making adjustments to their model, splashing a near-€30m fee on David Raum and bringing back Timo Werner, an established star. Are they seeking to assure the short-term with Rose, or do they really believe they can grow and hit the next level? He will be realistic about his prospects, though the crowd chanting for him post-win on Saturday was a hint of affection he rarely received in Dortmund.
Leipzig are never standing still, of course, and if Tedesco’s reign came crashing down abruptly from a public point of view, the club had been considering the move for a while. Oliver Mintzlaff, the club’s CEO, confirmed as much, attaching little blame to Tedesco himself for the gradual implosion at the start of this season – five points from five Bundesliga games before they bottomed out against Shakhtar – but admitting the seeds had been planted in last season’s closing weeks.
The club are also moving to appoint a new sporting director, with former Gladbach man Max Eberl ready to come off sabbatical, should Mintzlaff manage to find a deal with his counterpart Stephan Schippers (Eberl still has a contract at Borussia-Park). Eberl is smart and widely admired, and as a previous foil of Rose at Gladbach, it should work well.
This new infrastructure is too late for Tedesco, just as Dortmund’s smart-looking recruitment this summer was something Rose would have loved to have been around to enjoy. He now has his new start in the east – but a strong first impression won’t fool him into ignoring just how real the pressures are, and how much he has to prove.
Despite Dortmund’s bad afternoon, they finished Saturday in a four-way tie at the summit with Bayern, Hoffenheim and Freiburg. Bayern were held to a third successive draw, with Stuttgart’s Serhou Guirassy netting a stoppage-time equaliser from the penalty spot at Allianz Arena, which overall leaves the still-unbeaten champions sitting on their worst domestic start in 12 years. It was the least the visitors deserved, though they were still smarting from an earlier strike by Guirassy being disallowed after VAR consultation, which left their sporting director Sven Mislintat moaning about Bayern getting favourable calls. He got short shrift in this from counterpart Hasan Salihamidžić, who also supported Julian Nagelsmann as he attempts to effectively rotate in a packed programme.
Well done too to Mathys Tel, not only Bayern’s youngest-ever first-team goalscorer but now their youngest Bundesliga scorer at 17 years and 136 days after his confidently-taken opener.
We had just one goal overall in two games on Sunday, but it was a very significant one. Freiburg’s goalless draw with Gladbach – Daniel Farke’s enterprising visitors probably shaded the game – put them clear in second leaving Union Berlin top of the pile after an impressive win at Köln, and they should have had more than Timo Hübers’ early own goal to confirm their superiority.
Not as jubilant but mightily relieved are Schalke, who beat Bochum for their first Bundesliga win in 483 days. Daniel Reis has now left the latter as they remain bottom on zero points.