This was the game nobody really wanted to play. With the Bundesliga all wrapped up with four games to spare and the Champions’ League semi-final against Barcelona just around the corner, injury-hit FC Bayern presented an unfamiliar lineup with a number of new faces and tried their best, only to fall short against an enterprising Leverkusen outfit chasing a coveted automatic spot in next season’s Champions’ League group phase.
Of the starting eleven only four had played in the painful DFB-Pokal semi-final defeat against Borussia Dortmund earlier in the week: skipper Philipp Lahm, Manuel Neuer, Mitchell Weiser and Rafinha. With Jérôme Boateng taking a rest and Medhi Benatia on the bench the back four could best be described as cobbled together: Rafinha took up his usual position out on the right with the recalled Danté in the centre, and FC Bayern II youngster Rico Strieder made his first full team appearance out on the left. The warmest applause of the day however was reserved for Javi Martínez, fit again after a long absence through injury.
Gianluca Gaudino was back in the side to partner Philipp Lahm in the defensive midfield behind Weiser, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Götze, while up front Claudio Pizarro took the place of the injured Robert Lewandowski.
Bayern would create the first opportunity as Götze tested Bayer ‘keeper Bernd Leno inside the opening ten minutes, but it was the home side that made most of the running. The threat up front from the Werkself was evident and Stefan Kießling had a close-range header ruled out for offside – a tight but correct decision – but it was the visitors that arguably had the best chance to break the deadlock after twenty-seven minutes. Catching the opposition defence on the break Schweinsteiger found Götze in acres of space, and faced with having a shot or trying to take the ball around the ‘keeper the Bayern number nineteen decided on the latter. In the end it was the wrong decision, with the move ending in a tame shot that was easily cleared by Tin Javraj.
Mario Götze takes the ball past Leverkusen ‘keeper Bernd Leno, only to see his weak shot easily cleared
It was much the same story in the second half as Pizarro tested Leno early on, but ten minutes after the restart Leverkusen’s dead-ball specialist Hakan Çalhanoğlu lived up to his billing with a brilliant direct free-kick. From then on it was a matter of going through the motions for Pep Guardiola’s men, mindful of the bigger mission awaiting them later in the week. With just under twenty minutes remaining Pizarro made way for the second new face in the Bayern team, FC Bayern II striker Lukas Görtler.
Görtler almost immediately had a sniff of goal before being denied by the impressive Leno who then blocked another Götze effort, but from that point on Leverkusen took the game by the scruff of the neck. There was a succession of corners as Roger Schmidt’s side cranked up the pressure, and with nine minutes remaining they wrapped things up as substitute Julian Brandt’s well-struck shot fizzed past Neuer after a mazy run and killer pass from German international Karim Bellarabi.
Rafinha is unable to prevent Julian Brandt from scoring Leverkusen’s second goal nine minutes from time
The final whistle marked Bayern’s third league defeat of the season, but any disappointment at the result was quickly put aside as the team looked to get themselves ready for what will surely be an epic encounter at the Camp Nou.
Man of the Match
In truth, I can’t say I was looking for a man of the match and was happy just to see the ninety minutes come to an end without any further injury issues. Mario Götze clearly put plenty of effort in, and despite his poor missed chance early on probably edges it.
Bundesliga Week 31
BayArena, Leverkusen, 02.05.2015
Bayer 04 Leverkusen 2:0 (0:0) FC Bayern
Çalhanoğlu 55., Brandt 81. / –
Leverkusen: Leno – Hilbert, Jedvaj, Toprak, Wendell – Reinartz, Rolfes (c) – Bellarabi (90. Yurchenko), Çalhanoğlu (75. Brandt), Son – Kießling (75. Drmić)
FC Bayern: Neuer – Rafinha, Martínez (62. Benatia), Danté, Strieder – Gaudino, Lahm (c) (64. Thiago) – Weiser, Schweinsteiger, Götze – Pizarro (72. Görtler)
Yellow Cards: Bellarabi / Dante, Rafinha, Schweinsteiger, Weiser