FEATURE | Is Bayern Munich’s win at Bayer Leverkusen a pivotal moment in the Bundesliga title race?

Bayern Munich reaffirmed themselves as the top team in Germany after a come from behind 2-1 win against Bayer Leverkusen at the BayArena on Saturday evening. A sensational strike from Patrik Schick put the Werkself ahead in the 14th minute, but Bayern capitalised on defensive blunders with Robert Lewandowski scoring his 16th and 17th Bundesliga goals of the season to cap off a fine week.

Comeback Kings

Bayern Munich were under early pressure with Leverkusen’s high press functioning well and preventing them playing out from the back. Nadiem Amiri’s cross from a well worked corner routine found Patrik Schick who unleashed an unstoppable left footed volley past Manuel Neuer.

It was the seventh straight time Bayern had fallen behind in the Bundesliga. It could have been worse after Schick scored from an offside position, but the Bavarians withstood heavy pressure, grew into the game and equalised through Robert Lewandowski after a comedy of errors from the Leverkusen defence.

FC Bayern were at their best either side of the break and wasted numerous counter attacking opportunities. Lewandowski headed a free kick over the bar and the recently crowned Footballer of the Year saw another shot blocked.

Serge Gnabry’s shot was turned wide by Lukas Hradecky and Jamal Musiala hit the post with the match seemingly headed for a draw. Bayern’s persistence paid off however, Lewandowski capitalising on another defensive howler as his deflected strike sailed past Hradecky deep into added time.

Let’s discuss Sané

Leroy Sané had a shocker against Wolfsburg, but was given a chance to atone after replacing the injured Kingsley Coman in the 32nd minute. It wasn’t happening for Sané in Leverkusen.

He frequently made bad decisions with the ball, produced poor touches and appears a player severely lacking in confidence. The 24-year-old lasted 36 minutes before being replaced by Jamal Musiala.

That Sané still led Bayern in lost possessions and fouls speaks volumes. Flick addressed the substitution after the match, saying “It wasn’t a punishment. I had to make a sub, and the options were either Thomas Müller, Serge Gnabry or Leroy. Thomas is indispensable for our system, Serge really got into the game in the second half. So I had to sub Leroy off.”

Sané is an important player for Bayern Munich, devastating and a match winner when in full flow. He is going through a rough patch on the pitch for sure, but there could be other contributing factors off it and getting his confidence restored will be one of Flick’s main assignments during the break.

Bayer can only blame themselves

Peter Bosz got his tactics spot on in the early stages against Bayern Munich, but the way Leverkusen gifted Lewandowski both goals will hurt for some time. Bosz summed it up well after the match, saying, “We have to play more intelligently at the back. The timing in which the two goals were conceded cannot happen like that.”

The first goal saw an errant Edmond Tapsoba pass pounced on by Bayern, then some horrendous communication that saw Lewandowski free to head home on the edge of the 6-yard-box. Jonathan Tah was the main culprit and the goal gets worse every time you watch it.

Tah’s touch completely deserted him in added time. It was amateurish defending that allowed Joshua Kimmich to pounce and release Lewandowski who scored via a deflection. Only the football Gods know if it would have floated into the far corner.

Let’s talk about Tah

Jonathan Tah is a solid defender, but there were some serious doubts about his ability to reach a higher level than Leverkusen more than two years ago. It wasn’t a shock when he lost his starting spot and Tah now sits behind Sven Bender, Edmond Tapsoba and probably Aleksandar Dragovic in the pecking order.

He does many things well, but the mistakes made yesterday speak for themselves. Tah is only 24-years-old and has many years to improve, but his current market value on transfermarkt.com is now €20m, down from €40m in June 2019 and that’s no surprise.

Not all doom and gloom

Peter Bosz deserves a huge amount of credit for his work in Leverkusen. There were very few, possibly none, that thought the departures of Kai Havertz and Kevin Volland wouldn’t have a negative impact on the team this season.

Leading the Bundesliga without losing a match and cruising through the UEFA Europa League group stage was all down to Bosz. His side have embraced his philosophy and are showing signs of maturity with a reinvigorated Leon Bailey and confident Patrik Schick leading the way.

Bayer Leverkusen have a great chance to reflect on this defeat, regroup and return in 2021 to fight on three fronts.

Great tactical battle

Hansi Flick basically had his side line up with three at the back, Kingsley Coman and Alphonso Davies acting as wing-backs to nullify the threats posed by Leon Bailey and Moussa Diaby.

Davies’ individual battle with Bailey was a joy to watch, the left footed speedsters going at it until the Jamaican was substituted in the 74th minute.

Davies’ preoccupation with Bailey meant it was harder for Bayern to isolate and target Aleksandar Dragovic who was playing in an unfamiliar right-back position. Serge Gnabry eventually managed to get on top of Dragovic with many of Bayern’s attacks coming through that avenue.

Pivotal moment?

Bayern Munich were nine points behind Borussia Dortmund in the 2018/19 season. The 5-0 thrashing they handed to Dortmund at Allianz Arena on Matchday 28 gave them a one point lead, it completely changed the complexion of the title race and they never looked back.

Last season they trailed Leipzig but reclaimed top spot on Matchday 19. They welcomed Leipzig to Munich on Matchday 21, earning a 0-0 draw to maintain their one-point lead and never looked back, winning their next 21 matches to win the Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and UEFA Champions League.

We are only completing Matchday 13 in the current campaign and there is a long way to go, but defeating the Bundesliga’s last remaining unbeaten team and taking top spot in the process feels like another critical moment as the Bavarians chase their ninth straight Meisterschale.

Matthew Marshall

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