Phillip Wollscheid’s own goal, three minutes from fulltime handed Bayern Munich a Bundesliga record 12th away win this season – leaving the Bavarians six points away from securing the league title.
Sami Hyypia and Sascha Lewandowski lined their side up in a 4-3-3. Gonzalo Castro, Stefan Kießling and Andre Schurrle played upfront, while Lars Bender, Simon Rolfes and Stefan Reinartz made up the midfield. Phillip Wollschied and Sebastian Boenisch returned to the starting lineup replacing Michal Kadlec and Manuel Friedrich.
Jupp Heynckes made a few changes to his traditional 4-2-3-1, and it started with Mario Gomez leading the line. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Arjen Robben and Xherdan Shaqiri played behind the German striker, while Luiz Gustavo and Javi Martinez protected the back four. Rafinha and Jerome Boateng were also in the lineup replacing Daniel Van Buyten and Phillip Lahm.
Considering the gap between the sides going into the match was 21 points, there was no surprise that the atmosphere was quite subdued. It was a game of two halves that saw the Bavarians dominate the first and Leverkusen grow into the second.
Bastian Schweinsteiger played in an advanced role behind Gomez, while Gustavo and Martinez played in a double pivot. Toni Kroos’ was unavailable due to a knee injury, so it wasn’t much of a surprise to see him play behind Gomez. Schweinsteiger was key in the first half, and one of many reasons why Bayern were dominant.
Schweinsteiger dropped deep into the midfield, as Kroos’ normally does and he linked play with the wide men and Gomez. His presence also opened up another passing option and it helped Heynckes’ side advance up the pitch. The German international ran the channels, and it opened up space for Shaqiri and Robben to drift into.
Leverkusen dropped into a 4-5-1 when they didn’t have the ball and opted to press Gustavo and Martinez. This is what made Schweinsteiger so vital, he dropped deeper and launched several balls across the pitch.
Another key element in Bayern’s dominance was their ability to keep their shape and quickly get numbers behind the ball. Leverkusen often attacked on the break in the first half, and they conceded possession easily, allowing Bayern to counter with pace. Balls were usually sprung out to the right, so Robben and Rafinha could exploit the empty space. Ultimately, this led to the first goal as this time the counter was on the left hand side, in which Shaqiri played a ball to Gomez. Gomez went on a fantastic run from half beating two defenders and the German international calmly slotted his shot past Bernd Leno. The goal forced Leverkusen to move away from their cautious approach, and they began to press Dante, but the Brazilian did a great job in playing short incisive passes in between them.
Shaqiri’s involvement in the first half was also instrumental to Bayern’s stellar half. The Swiss international would often drift into central positions and in between the lines to pick up the ball. This allowed Alaba to make surging runs forward that Leverkusen struggled to deal with. For everything that went right for Heynckes’ men in the first half, it was a surprise to see Bayern only lead by a goal.
Leverkusen made a half-time change taking off the ineffective Andre Schurrle, and bringing on Sidney Sam. Sam played on the right flank and Castro drifted to the left.
With 30 minutes remaining in the game, the duo made their final change by bringing on Jens Heleger in place of Stefan Reinartz.
Leverkusen began playing the ball out to Sam, and he took Alaba on 1v1 every single time. Not only did he stretch the pitch, but he provided a direct approach that Leverkusen lacked in the first half. They were far too narrow, and it made easier for Bayern’s defenders to contain them.
Hegler moving to the left hand side, pushed Castro into the midfield. Heleger didn’t make the same impact as Sam did, but he did help stretch the Bayern backline. There was more space for the midfield three to play in, and the presence of two wide men pegged Alaba and Rafinha back.
With Kroos’ unavailable, Martinez and Gustavo started in the two holding roles for the second straight game. On paper it looks like a very good combination, but they had a second consecutive mediocre outing. To be fair Heynckes’ hasn’t played the two together throughout the season, but the duo has started in both Champions League losses for Bayern this season.
Both men are great passers on the ball, that have the ability to destroy plays. The problem is that they have difficulties slowing down the tempo/dictating the game. When Leverkusen pushed on in the second half, they found themselves sitting deeper, but when they won possession they were unable to settle. With Bayern nearly dropping points with both men on the field, this might leave Heynckes’ concerned with the fitness levels of Kroos and Schweinsteiger going into the final stages of the Champions League.
Hyypia and Lewandowski’s half-time changes improved Leverkusen’s performance in the second half. The introduction of direct wide player’s kept the Bayern fullbacks cautious when going forward, and mounted pressure on Bayern as they sat deeper as the half continued.
With Gustavo and Martinez failing to slow down the tempo of the match, Bayern continuously broke on the counter, but they didn’t have enough men pushing forward. This resulted in Gomez being substituted for a more mobile Claudio Pizzaro. Heynckes’ also brought on Daniel Van Buyten and Anatoliy Tymoschuk for Gustavo and Robben. Bayern was content with a 1-0 victory, but Leverkusen’s wingers continued to penetrate and Bayern conceded from a corner kick.
In terms of goals, this game had the same pattern to the fixture between these sides earlier this season. The only difference was in the first meeting, Bayern dominated possession and created several chances.
Leverkusen handed Bayern their only defeat in the league, in which Mandzukic equalized and Sam’s header ricocheted off Gustavo’s face into the net. Mandzukic’s goal came in the 77th minute and the winner came 10 minutes later.
This match saw Rolfes’ equalize in the 75th minute and Schweinsteiger’s freekick deflected off of Sebastian Boesnisch in the 87th minute as well. It also saw Heleger and Sam introduced as subs, in which they made a significant impact.
Coincidence? Possibly, but this has been the pattern in these tight affairs between these sides this season.
This was a game of two halves – Bayern dominated the first half, but they took their foot off the gas, and Leverkusen’s changes allowed them to grow into the game.
Leverkusen lose two consecutive games in the league for the first time this season, but with the league out of reach, Hyypia and Lewandowski will focus on securing their Champions League football next season.
Despite not being at their best, Bayern was able to claim their 22nd victory this season. The Bavarians currently sit 20 points ahead of second place Dortmund and need six points to claim their 22nd Bundesliga title.
With the league wrapped up, all eyes will be turned to their monumental European clash against Juventus in a few weeks.
2. Simon Rolfe
3. Mario Gomez