6 Things We Learned from Bayern Versus Leverkusen
In what had come to be a troubling week for Bayern Munich, following the sentencing of their club president, Uli Hoeness, to jail after a high-profile tax case, the squad returned to action on the pitch as though nothing had ever happened with a confident 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen.
Pep Guardiola took to the occasion with a whole roster of changes which raised as many eyebrows in the Bayern end as it did amongst the travelling Leverkusen fans, yet winning football matches is what Bayern do so well and is exactly what they set about ensuring Saturday.
The first half was actually quite a timid affair, with Bayern lacking the usual intimate build-up play that is usually so prevalent when Dante and David Alaba start for the side. Leverkusen clearly took note of this and worked down both channels to varied success.
Yet it was Mario Mandzukic, the Bayern top goalscorer, who broke through the deadlock with a headed goal that came from a rather uncharacteristic, direct cross from Bastian Schweinsteiger. Leverkusen may have made the home side huff and puff throughout the first half, but at half-time it was the Munich side that went in with the lead.
From then on in, it was no more than Bayern's game to lose, if not for the slow and consistent arrival of one superstar after the next, as Guardiola discreetly introduced Franck Ribery, Xherdan Shaqiri and Thiago Alcantara to the already crippling troubles of a Leverkusen side that had simply had enough.
The visiting team did find their consolation goal, through Stefan Kiessling's efficient header at the back post in the dying moments of the game, but it didn't come before a truly breathtaking free-kick from Schweinsteiger to double his side's lead in the 52nd minute.
Leverkusen had done themselves proud, but the inevitable defeat was always at hand from this unstoppable Bavarian juggernaut. Bayern march on to their latest title as Sami Hyypia's side continue to flounder in the final Champions League spot.
Here's what we learned from Saturday night's game.
50-Match Undefeated Run
Saturday night's result will now of course go down in history as the game that the German and European champions clocked as their 50th without defeat in the Bundesliga. It's a record stretching back to last season, with no equal across Europe's top divisions right now.
Such a record now surpasses Juventus' of 49 undefeated games between 2011 and 2012 and the famous Arsenal side of 2004 which shares the same number of games. Yet this Bayern team also managed to win the Champions League in between such a feat, adding to the weight of its incredible achievement.
The next side to catch are the Ajax side of the earlier nineties that managed 52 games before ultimately losing.
Stars Left on the Bench
There is often a lot made of Bayern's ridiculous strength in depth and how at times this season Guardiola has no option but to leave some stars on the bench due to a simple lack of space in the first team.
Well Saturday we saw the Bavarian giants again leave some stars on the bench with Philipp Lahm, Ribery and Alcantara joining Shaqiri, Javi Martinez and Alaba on the bench. Six world-class stars who would walk in to any side and were ultimately not needed for the victory Saturday.
Whether it was a case of resting players who battled hard in Europe throughout the week or perhaps Guardiola simply wants to offer everyone a run out throughout the campign, Leverkusen will feel aggrevied after losing to this Bayern B team.
Hyypia Got His Tactics Right
Although Leverkusen did go in to the break a goal down, it was through a large chunk of bad luck on their part.
For even though Bayern ultimately broke through, Hyypia's side began the game with a near-perfect set-up that at least initially looked to have completely nullified the home side and their intent on walking to another comfortable win.
Alongside a strong and rigid defence, the likes of Stefan Kiessling, Heung-Min Son and Gonzalo Castro all counter-attacked with ease and took advantage of the space on either wing. If not for Mandzukic's unforeseen header at the stroke of half-time, we would have seen a much more nervous Guardiola team come out in the second period.
Pep's B Team Not Quite Up to Scratch
Although Saturday night's game may quickly be forgotten amongst some classics throughout the current season for most Bayern fans, we shouldn't overlook the fact that Guardiola opted for a team of second-string players who came close to failing on the day.
The most worrying aspect of the reshuffle was of course the coach's reluctance to stick with a solid back line and instead resorting to bringing in players such as Diego Contento and Daniel Van Buyten—two defenders who did nothing but unsettle the team from kick off.
Victory came eventually, but it wasn't the same glossy affair that we've grown accustomed to from this side. Pass marks aplenty but it was certainly not anything worth writing home about.
Leverkusen's Slump Down the Table Continues
Despite a strong performance from Hyypia's side at the Allianz Arena this afternoon, Bayern's 2-1 victory now means that the Factory Squad have gone five games in the Bundesliga without picking up a single win.
This of course means that Leverkusen have fallen to fourth in the league, with fifth-placed Wolfsburg just three points behind them and the final Champions League spot.
Although results did go in their favour this weekend, with Dortmund failing to pick up any points and Wolfsburg drawing, such form will need to be addressed if they hope to salvage anything from what was a successful start to the campaign.
Bayern Could Win the Bundesliga Next Week
If Borussia Dortmund fail to beat Hannover next Saturday and Bayern manage to overcome Mainz on the very same day, Guardiola's team will win the Bundesliga title on March 22.
To put such an achievement into context is difficult because no club in Germany has ever managed to do what this club is doing this season.
With a lead at the top of the table that now stretches to 26 points, Bayern sit atop of the German division with a gap that's larger than that between first and second place in England, France, Spain and Italy combined. Such is the Bavarian clubs domination of the league this year.