Bayer Leverkusen vs. Bayern Munich: 6 Things We Learned
As the curtains closed on the evening's action at the Bay Arena in Leverkusen, the general humming of fans slowly diminished as the stadium eventually emptied. Yet there sat, in centre stage of the echoing sporting cauldron, Pep Guardiola—alone on the bench glaring at an empty pitch.
For what he had just witnessed was his Bayern Munich side draw 1-1 with third-place Bayer Leverkusen. It was a point well-earned, but two critically dropped, just hours after Dortmund had surrendered any hope of victory in Gladbach.
The result still means that Bayern slowly made their way to the top of the Bundesliga table, yet instead of a strong three-point gap between themselves and Jurgen Klopp's challenging pack, the Bavarian champions hold the most slender of leads with a mere point between themselves and Dortmund.
Click "Begin Slideshow" to see the six most important points of the 1-1 draw between Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich.
Guardiola's Striker-Less System Didnt Work
The most striking aspect of Bayern's preparation for this game was, of course, the introduction of Thomas Muller as the side's sole striker. In the same fashion as the impressive win over Manchester City in the Champions League on Wednesday night, Guardiola opted to play the wide forward instead of the more conventional Mario Mandzukic.
Yet, despite working perfectly against the English Premier League side, this striker-less tactic didn't come off well against Leverkusen, as Muller struggled to score a single goal, despite finding himself in constant opportunities to do so.
In a game that needed just one goal to ensure victory for Bayern, fans will be critical of Guardiola's choice to leave their world-class striker on the bench.
Xherdan Shaqiri Thrived with Opportunity
One player who did outperform his initial expectations was 21-year-old Xherdan Shaqiri who made an unusual appearance in the starting lineup and wasted no time assuring fans and his coach that he deserved the spot.
Playing primarily on the right-hand wing, Shaqiri was included in the squad at Arjen Robben's expense, yet proved himself capable of creating just as many goal-scoring opportunities as the heralded Dutch international.
When replaced by the aforementioned Dutch colleague, there was a notable sway in the manner in which Bayern attacked Leverkusen, as Robben found great difficulty adjusting to the pace of the game and offering anything in particular to the side.
Leverkusen Prove Their Defensive Worth
Although the newspaper headlines will all focus their attention on the way this game affected Bayern Munich, it's worth noting just how well Leverkusen did to earn a point from this game and the manner in which Sami Hyypia has coached the team in to something special.
Although the Factory Squad were definitely clinging on at certain points in the game, their defensive solidity and incredible work ethic throughout the 90 minutes were true testaments to the ex-Liverpool defender's coaching technique and just what his players would go through for him.
A 1-1 draw against the German and European should ignite this side's morale and help the Bundesliga's third-best side push on throughout the remainder of the season.
Bayern Punished for Momentary Switch off
Aside from the obvious disappointment of dropping two points in a neck-and-neck title race, one of Guardiola's biggest concerns about this game was the manner in which his side let Leverkusen back in the game so easily—and so quickly after they opened the scoring.
Although we've just commended Hyppia's side for the determination and ability to match Bayern for large periods of the game, leading up to the first goal, there was really only one football team on the pitch, and as they ran off to celebrate Toni Kroos' sublime shot, they should have jogged back in to position and made sure of the win.
Yet they didn't. And as we wrestle over the significance of Guardiola's Bayern dropping points again, the manager himself will be wondering just how to iron out these little creases in their game.
Gotze Still Playing Second Fiddle to Old Regulars
Another continuing problem that Guardiola must overcome soon is the bizarre position nature of Mario Gotze's role in this squad and just who, if he is to be a first-team starter, will he be replacing.
As each game passes, there is a notable pattern growing amongst the broadcasters to spend more time facing the cameras towards the Bayern bench than on what is actually happening on the pitch. And this isn't something that the likes of Uli Hoeness or Karl Heinz Rummenigge can happily ignore.
For a club that prides itself on its financial responsibility, the consideration that Gotze may one day be considered a flop at Bayern is something that is simply unacceptable. Guardiola needs to get him in the team quickly and turn him into one of the club's brightest stars.
Missed Opportunity to Go Top for Bayern
Two points lost is something that can be controlled, but a bad habit is something that can destroy a side from the inside.
Saturday's draw with Leverkusen will be called many things, but, perhaps, the most worrying will be the word "similar" and how it is used to compare this game to a familiar one against Freiburg not so long ago in which Bayern, again, dropped points.
This, of course, comes after a dismissive 1-0 over Wolfsburg last weekend, when the Bavarian stars did just enough to earn pass marks from their Munich faithful. Yet what will truly bother most fans and Pep Guardiola himself is how often such a drop in the player's levels happens over the course of a season and tournament campaign and if it will get in the way of vital silverware.