Not for the first time this season, FC Bayern München blew a lead. Not for the first time this season, they fluffed a succession of chances. Only this time, their determined opponents more than made the most of their opportunities.
With leaders Borussia Dortmund snatching a point in Frankurt and Borussia Mönchengladbach taking three easy points at Schalke, Niko Kovač’s side slip back down to fourth place – seven adrift of Dortmund.
Bayern make the early running
The Bayern coach had to make a number of tweaks to the eleven that had started against VfB Stuttgart. A hand injury to Manuel Neuer meant that Sven Ulreich was recalled, while Thiago had gone down with a stomach bug. Javi Martínez was left on the bench, while Rafinha slotted in at right back and Joshua Kimmich shifted back in the defensive midfield alongside Leon Goretzka.
Ahead of the reformed double-six, skipper Thomas Müller was joined by James Rodríguez and Kingsley Coman, with Robert Lewandowski leading the line.
There was an early shout for the home side against Mats Hummels, but the early running was made by the visitors. Coman had two sniffs of goal inside the opening quarter of an hour, while Lewandowski and Müller also went close. There was a good rhythm about Die Roten’s play, and as the first half developed they looked increasingly comfortable.
Converting the pressure
Despite the flurry of chances, the Bavarians were unable to covert. Goretzka almost unlocked the Werkself defence after some lovely approach play from James, but having put under pressure at the start the home side slowly started to get a foothold.
Goretzka has looked impressive since the turn of the year, and it was the former Schalke man who eventually made the breakthrough – somewhat against the run of play. When a Leverkusen attack broke down, the Reds’ swift counterattack ended with the young midfielder nodding home Müller’s cross.
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As the first half drew to a close, there was a major blow for Peter Bosz’s men. Teenage star Kai Havertz was subbed out after a clash with Kimmich, and suddenly Leverkusen were rocking. When Lewandowski executed the perfect finish to beat ‘keeper Lukáš Hrádecký two minutes into stoppage time, Bayern were firm favourites.
But no. After consulting the VAR, referee Tobias Stieler would rule the goal out. The decision was more than marginal. Lewandowski’s grounded boot was behind the last man, and his knee a fraction in front. Not even a fraction. It would prove to be a crucial moment, but as the two teams headed for the dressing room it looked like Bayern held all the aces.
If it looked like the visitors were going to stroll to victory, Bosz and his side had other ideas. Despite the loss of their star man, the Rhineland outfit upped their game considerably. Just a minute after the restart, Kevin Volland was desperately close to converting a Leon Bailey cross.
Leverkusen were devoid of fear, and were rewarded after 53 minutes. A well-placed Bailey free-kick ripped through the air and bulged the Bayern net, but some could argue that Ulreich should have done better.
It was just the soft of kick that Leverkusen needed. Ten minutes later Volland had turned the contest on its head, meeting Karim Bellarabi’s pass to finish with ease.
Bayern were unable to mount a sufficient comeback, their best chance being a James effort that was cleared at close quarters by former Münchener Mitchell Weiser. The sucker punch came a minute from time, when Kovač’s men were swept away by a clinical counterattack. Bellarabi and Julian Brandt set up the scene, and late sub Lucas Alario tapped home from close range.
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At half time, Bayern had been just three points behind Dortmund. 45 minutes later, the gap had been stretched to seven. While the Bavarians had been unable to take their chances, Leverkusen were outstanding in the second half. Having been plagued with inconsistency all season, the Aspirin men were able to pull it off – leaving the Bayern coach with an almighty headache.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen – FC Bayern München 3:1 (0:1)
Bailey 53., Volland 63., Alario 89. / Goretzka 41.
Leverkusen: Hrádecký – Weiser, Tah, S. Bender, Wendell – Aranguiz – Havertz (45.+1. Baumgartlinger), Brandt – Bellarabi (90.+2. Paulinho), Bailey (84. Alario) – Volland (c)
FC Bayern: Ulreich – Rafinha (79. Renato Sanches), Süle, Hummels, Alaba – Kimmich, Goretzka – Müller (c) (74. Gnabry), James (77. Davies), Coman – Lewandowski
Referee: Tobias Stieler (Hamburg)
Yellow Cards: Bellarabi 33., Aránguiz 34., Wendell 75. / Kimmich 35., Coman 52.
Red Cards: – / –
Shots: 10 / 17
Passes: 443 / 462
Completed Passes: 348 / 373
Pass Success: 79% / 81%
Possession: 49% / 51%
Fouls: 13 / 13
Offsides: 1 / 1
Corners: 7 / 4