“Leverkusen Sails Past Bayern in a Game That Might Shape the Bundesliga Destiny”

Manager Xabi Alonso of Bayer Leverkusen presented a passage from Bayern Munich manager Thomas Tuchel during the team’s Friday press conference, prior to their most important game. “We are playing against a lot of ‘neutral’ fans who want Leverkusen to win the title,” Tuchel stated. However, we are competing for the title and our own aspirations.”

Alonso spoke bluntly when questioned about his status as the neutral’s favorite: “We have enough support from our own and our home fans. That’s sufficient for us. We appreciate your help, but it’s not necessary. We already possess one another.”

As it happens, he was correct. Alonso’s team destroyed the 11-time defending league winners in the biggest match of the Bundesliga season, winning 3-0 after taking total control of the match in the first half. With 13 games left, they are already five points clear of Bayern.

Both managers have the chance to adjust their starting lineups because their teams are currently facing some difficulties and/or recent changes. Much work has been done by Alonso’s consent. Star forward Victor Bonifácio stepped up along with Florian Wirtz, Amin Edili, and Nathan Tella, both of whom came off the bench. Without his eight attempts, Munich faced constant pressure in the September draw. This was Edili’s first start in seven games, and Tella’s was just the third, but both played with steady pace and energy, and with Tella’s help from Alonso, they managed to put four shots on goal, putting a lot of pressure on the weakest area and putting in a solid performance.

The backline of Bayern:

Left-back Alfonso Diez began by having Tuchel initiate a new signing in place of Kimmich. Sacha Bouye at right back, and Dew Upamecano next to Eric Dier (who hasn’t played in the past two games because of a minor injury). Throughout the game, Matthijs de Ligt stayed on the sidelines. The three had never performed together, and it felt as though they never had. Along with his knee problems that kept him out of the game, goalie Manuel Neuer misdirected passes a few times.

Leverkusen’s goal came in the eighteenth minute as a result of Bayern’s cumulative mistakes. Following a great move by Wirtz and Edili that pushed Bayern into a last-ditch clearance, Joseph Estensko dribbled past Upamecano and provided a well placed cross from the right that reached the net without a touch, catching Upamecano and Leroy Sane off guard. After being loaned out by Bayern to Leverkusen in August, the player gave his new team a 1-0 lead.

Following Alfonso Diez’s injury, Tuchel started Alexander Pavlovic in midfield instead of Joshua Kimmich for Leverkusen. Pavlovic held his ground, making 45 of 50 passes; yet, Bayern’s efforts lacked originality. They altered the game in the first fifty minutes and reduced the number of touches from 76 to three tries with 0.1 xG during the assault. Alejandro Grimaldo scored two goals in the 50th minute after Tella’s excellent assist. Leverkusen had roughly 75 touches like this, but they converted them into 10 shots.

After the second goal, Bayern began to create more dangerous opportunities, but they were unsuccessful until Kimmich returned in the final half-hour. Stars Harry Kane and Jamal Musiala combined for just two shots and four touches in the box, which was their lowest total for the season in terms of both shot count and shots on target. Leverkusen’s backline was nearly flawless, and their ball handling ability gave them dominance over the middle of the game, stopping Bayern from making mistakes in critical places. Finally, in the last moments, Bayern’s desperation forced Neuer to concede a corner. Following Neuer’s header attempt, Frenpong sprinted the full 25 yards down and finished the play from 37 meters away in the empty net. Exit at the last whistle.

It’s the hard part now, as they say. In winning the season’s pivotal match, Leverkusen accomplished what a number of their opponents had not in the past: stealing Bayern’s points when it mattered. Their chances of winning Bundesliga games went from 47% at the start to 66% at the finish, based on Opta power ratings. They have to keep up this level despite a chaotic schedule in the DFB Pokal (where they have advanced to the semi-finals) and the Europa League (where they have qualified for the Round of 16). However, their lead is only five points.


After the game, Leverkusen Ultras cheered Alonso and his team on while goalkeeper and captain Lukas Hradecky played with them and ascended the stands to chant. After the game, there was definitely not the usual post-match atmosphere. However, Alonso reiterated that they are prepared to instantly refocus on everything that happens after that when questioned on Friday about if they are worried about keeping their composure until the very end of the Bayern game. “No, no, no, it’s a challenge for tomorrow, but it’s not a definitive challenge,” he replied. “Though three points are not guaranteed, it’s a crucial game. It’s not tough; we’re used to getting ready for such events.”

This was covered in depth during the Saturday night news conference following the game. “Each of these games has helped us gain more experience in playing big games,” he added, looking back on the important matches played this season, whether they were won or lost. We need that kind of thinking now.

“The team is getting better if they are competing at this level against Bayern. The group is prepared to perform brilliantly and not get overwhelmed. And that’s excellent.

Such incredible performances are just getting started, and as the finish line draws nearer, the pressure and awareness of the “Neverkusen” allusions for both teams—the one that hasn’t won a trophy and the one that consistently fails to live up to expectations—are growing. Leverkusen has come to symbolize sad losses for the team that was close but lost the four games of the 2001–02 treble, falling short instead of winning.

However, Leverkusen, who have gone 31 games without a loss, has faith in both their supporters and one another. That might be sufficient to complete the task and break Bayern’s winning streak.

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