Through the peaks and troughs of Bayern Munich’s season, the sniping and the difficulties and Bayer Leverkusen’s scintillating form, one basic principle remains unchallenged.
When Thomas Tuchel’s side won their 12th Bundesliga title in a row, the old muscle memory would kick in. And they did; but not remotely in the way anyone expected.
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This was not just a victory but a humiliation, not just three crucial points in the title race but an attack on Bayern’s identity. Bayer Leverkusen’s outside was quicker and more creative.
Tuchel, meanwhile, was unfazed by Xabi Alonso, who cemented his status as the sport’s most promising young coach with a dizzying array of imagination, cute tactical flourishes and clever use of the bench.
The gap at the top of the league is now five points, and yet for the coming days and weeks most of the talk in Germany will be about Bayern’s collapse, Bayern’s crisis, Bayern’s fumes.
“To be honest, I’m pissed off,” Thomas Müller said in an angry post-match TV interview. “To quote Oliver Kahn: what’s missing is balls. It’s okay to feel pressure, but there must be energy and freedom. It’s not just about the coach. Sometimes we have to talk about the players.”
And if Bayer Leverkusen always believed, maybe now was the time the rest of us could too. Josip Stanisic opened the scoring, Álex Grimaldo scored the winner early in the second half, Florian Wirtz and Granit Xhaka were superb in midfield and Jeremie Frimpong sealed the points brilliantly in injury time. But what distinguishes this Leverkusen team is how little they rely on moments of individual quality.
They defend and attack as a unit, interchangeable pieces running odd angles with relentless pressure. Here Alonso went without a known striker. Amine Adli played as a false nine complemented by Nathan Tella on the right. Stanisic over Frimpong was another surprise call. Alonso talks a lot about flexibility, and this performance – artful and elusive, practiced and resilient in all the right places – is why.
The result was a game that had all the textural quality of a David Lynch film: thick with intrigue and red herrings, strange motifs and hidden layers of meaning. Why were fans throwing sweets on the pitch? Why was Stanisic the only player on his team not celebrating his goal? Why were Bayern defenders playing on the other side? And why were home fans dressed as the Pope?
Leaders Internazionale came from behind to win 4-2 at Roma in Serie A on Saturday, ending Daniele De Rossi’s winning debut at the capital club despite trailing their hosts at half-time .
Inter extended their lead over second-placed Juventus to seven points ahead of Massimiliano Allegri’s side hosting Udinese on Monday. They still have a game in hand after their January trip to Saudi Arabia for the Italian Super Cup.
Roma, who had won all three of their previous games under De Rossi after replacing José Mourinho in January, flew out of the trap and Stephan El Shaarawy came close to scoring inside the first minute but Inter his close shot. curator Yann Sommer.
Instead, Francesco Acerbi headed home to give Inter the lead in the 17th minute from a corner kick after Roma’s Romelu Lukaku punched the ball in, a goal that stood up after a lengthy VAR review for an offside check.
Roma pushed back and Gianluca Mancini nodded home a free-kick before the half-hour mark before El Shaarawy put the home side ahead at the interval, when his shot from a tight angle bounced in after hitting both posts.
However, Marcus Thuram equalized for Inter fired in with a low first-time shot four minutes into the second half and Roma Angelino put the ball into his own net to restore the visitors’ lead in the 56th minute.
Alessandro Bastoni then collected a lovely square pass from substitute Marko Arnautovic in stoppage time to secure points for the visitors.
Earlier on Saturday, Lazio moved up to sixth with a 3-1 win over relegation-threatened Cagliari.
Some of these questions were easier to answer than others. The concussions, which delayed kick-off by eight minutes, were part of a long-running protest by fans across Germany at a proposed sale of a stake in the Bundesliga’s media rights to private investment. The fancy dress was for the Karneval weekend. Stanisic is currently on loan from Bayern. And Tuchel’s decision to play Sacha Boey at left-back may have been an attempt to counter Frimpong’s pace, which ultimately did not start.
And so Bayern was defeated not only in practice but in theory. Perhaps one of the reasons their defense looked so uncertain was that it was never entirely clear what they were trying to defend. Perhaps one of the reasons why Harry Kane was so unknown was that Bayern had no idea how to get him into the game. The result was three targets of varying degrees of head loss.
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The first came for Stanisic when Bayern went completely to bed for the second phase of play after Manuel Neuer’s save. Grimaldo’s second came from a simple give-and-go, Aleksandar Pavlovic failed to track down the run. The third came deep into injury time, with Neuer still coming for a corner (why?) and Frimpong curling the ball in brilliantly from around 30 yards.
Frankly the margin could be even wider. Bayern hardly created any good chances all night. And of course this is only February, and Leverkusen have never won a title in their history, and nothing is sealed yet. But if it is still too early to call time on Bayern’s reign, it has never felt more precarious.