Despite the ups and downs of Bayern Munich’s season, the criticism and obstacles, and the impressive performance of Bayer Leverkusen, one fundamental principle has remained mostly unquestioned.
When Thomas Tuchel’s team realized they were close to winning their 12th consecutive Bundesliga title, their familiar instincts took over. It was expected that they would reveal their true abilities when it counted the most, such as in this game. However, they did so in a completely unexpected manner.
This was not just a loss, but a humbling experience. It wasn’t just about gaining three important points in the championship, but also a blow to Bayern’s core. Bayer Leverkusen proved to be faster, more determined, and more innovative than Bayern.
During the game, Tuchel was outsmarted by Xabi Alonso, who solidified his reputation as the most talented up-and-coming coach in the sport through his brilliantly creative choices, clever strategic moves, and effective utilization of substitutions.
The lead in the league has widened to five points, yet the focus in Germany for the next few days and weeks will be on Bayern’s potential collapse, troubles, and discontent.
“I am angry, to be frank,” expressed Thomas Müller during a heated interview after the match. “In the words of Oliver Kahn, there is a lack of courage. It’s understandable to feel pressure, but there should also be enthusiasm and liberty. It’s not solely the coach’s responsibility. At times, we need to discuss the players as well.”
If Bayer Leverkusen had a strong belief, this could have been the time for the rest of us to also believe. Josip Stanisic scored the first goal, Álex Grimaldo scored another one early in the second half to secure the win, and Florian Wirtz and Granit Xhaka played exceptionally well in the midfield. Jeremie Frimpong scored a spectacular goal in injury time to seal the victory. However, what sets this Leverkusen team apart is their reliance on teamwork rather than individual moments of brilliance.
As a cohesive group, they both protect and attack, with interchangeable players moving in unique patterns while maintaining constant pressure. In this instance, Alonso chose not to have a designated striker. Instead, Amine Adli acted as a false forward with support from Nathan Tella on the right. The decision to start Stanisic over Frimpong was unexpected. Alonso emphasizes the importance of adaptability, and this particular display – skillful and evasive yet well-practiced and resilient when needed – exemplifies why.
The outcome was a match that had the same level of detail and complexity as a film by David Lynch. It was filled with mystery, misleading clues, unusual symbols, and underlying messages. What was the reason for supporters throwing candy onto the field? Why was Stanisic the sole player on his team not rejoicing after scoring a goal? Why were the full-backs for Bayern playing on opposite sides? And what was the significance of a spectator dressed as the pope?
Certain inquiries were simpler to respond to compared to others. The confections, which caused an eight-minute delay in kick-off, were a form of ongoing outcry by supporters throughout Germany against a potential agreement to sell a portion of the Bundesliga’s media rights to private investors. The elaborate costumes were for the weekend of Karneval. Stanisic is currently borrowed from Bayern. And it’s possible that Tuchel’s choice to have Sacha Boey play at left-back was an effort to counteract the speed of Frimpong, who ultimately did not start.
Bayern suffered defeat in both practical and conceptual aspects. Their defense appeared hesitant due to a lack of clarity on their objective. This may have contributed to Harry Kane’s lack of involvement, as Bayern seemed unsure how to utilize him. As a result, they conceded three goals, each showcasing different levels of frustration.
Stanisic’s first goal occurred when Bayern appeared to be dozing off during the second phase of play following a save by Manuel Neuer. Grimaldo’s second goal was the result of a basic give-and-go, with Aleksandar Pavlovic neglecting to follow the run. The third goal was scored in extra time, with Neuer still on the field for a corner (for some reason), and Frimpong impressively curving the ball into the net from approximately 30 yards away.
To be honest, the margin could have been greater. Bayern struggled to create a good opportunity throughout the entire match. Additionally, it is important to note that it is only February and Leverkusen has never won a championship before. Therefore, nothing is set in stone just yet. However, while it may be premature to declare the end of Bayern’s reign, the situation has never seemed more uncertain.