Despite Bayern Munich’s ups and downs throughout the season, the criticism, obstacles, and impressive performance of Bayer Leverkusen, there is one fundamental principle that has not been questioned.
After Thomas Tuchel’s team caught wind of their 12th straight Bundesliga championship, their previous experience would take over. It was believed that they would ultimately reveal their true abilities in crucial matches such as this one. However, they did so in a completely unexpected manner.
This was not just a loss, but a humbling experience. It was more than just three important points in the championship battle, it was a blow to Bayern’s core. Bayer Leverkusen, with their speed, determination, and creativity, proved to be a superior team.
In the meantime, Tuchel was outsmarted by Xabi Alonso, who solidified his position as the most talented up-and-coming coach in the sport with a brilliantly creative lineup, clever strategic moves, and effective utilization of substitutions.
The lead in the league has increased by five points, but the topic of conversation in Germany for the next few days and weeks will mostly revolve around Bayern’s downfall, Bayern’s turmoil, and Bayern’s anger.
“I am feeling quite angry, to be frank,” expressed Thomas Müller in an intense interview after the match. “As Oliver Kahn once said, we are lacking courage. It’s normal to feel pressure, but we also need to have energy and be unafraid. It’s not solely the responsibility of the coach. At times, we have to address the players as well.”
Perhaps this was the moment for the rest of us to also believe, as Bayer Leverkusen always has. Josip Stanisic started the scoring, Álex Grimaldo sealed the game early in the second half, and Florian Wirtz and Granit Xhaka shone in midfield. Jeremie Frimpong impressively secured the points in injury time. However, what sets this Leverkusen team apart is their reliance on collective effort rather than individual brilliance.
The team works together to both defend and attack, with each player able to play multiple roles and constantly putting pressure on the opposing team. In this game, Alonso did not have a designated striker, instead opting for Amine Adli in a false nine position and Nathan Tella on the right. The decision to start Stanisic over Frimpong was unexpected. Alonso values flexibility and this game showcased it perfectly, with a skilled and unpredictable performance that was well-rehearsed and resilient when needed.
The outcome was a match that resembled a David Lynch film in terms of its rich and complex elements, including suspenseful plot twists, misleading clues, peculiar symbols, and underlying messages. What was the reason for supporters tossing 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?
Some of these questions were easier to answer than others. The sweets, which delayed kick-off by eight minutes, were part of a long-running protest by fans across Germany at a proposed deal selling off a stake in the Bundesliga’s media rights to private investment. The fancy dress was for Karneval weekend. Stanisic is currently on loan from Bayern. And perhaps Tuchel’s decision to play Sacha Boey at left-back was an attempt to counter the pace of Frimpong, who ended up not starting.
Bayern were not only defeated in practical play, but also in theory. It is possible that their defense appeared unsure because their objective was never fully defined. Another reason for Harry Kane’s lack of involvement may be due to Bayern’s lack of strategy for involving him in the game. As a result, three goals were conceded with varying levels of frustration.
Stanisic’s first goal occurred when Bayern momentarily lost focus in 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 failing to keep up with the run. The third goal was scored in extra time, while Neuer was still up for a corner (for what reason?) and Frimpong impressively curled the ball into the net from approximately 30 yards away.
To be completely honest, the margin could have been greater. Throughout the entire evening, Bayern hardly created any good opportunities. However, it is important to note that it is currently only February and Leverkusen has never been victorious in a title match. Therefore, nothing is guaranteed at this point. While it may be premature to declare an end to Bayern’s reign of dominance, the situation feels more uncertain than ever.