An incredibly important match for both: Bayern needs points to stay alive in the Champions League race (not to mention that Mainz is coming closer and closer), Leverkusen probably has to win every game to have a realistic shot at winning the league title. And let’s not forget the coaches: Andries Jonker’s first match as Bayern head coach is one against his successor. Will Jupp Heynckes make sure that he’ll have to travel to Borisov instead of Barcelona next season? Here’s a special preview.
This week you’re not gonna read a normal preview (and won’t get any possible lineups until shortly before the match due to injuries making it a guessing game). Instead, I’m excited to present a preview written by a Leverkusen fan: The man responsible for the great blog Football Stryder, Vampy Archer. Without further ado, let me turn the floor over:
Never have been so before, the fates of these two clubs entwined in one another. One; FC Bayern Munich is looking to pull off a final push on their European qualification by winning this massive game against high-flying Bayer Leverkusen. Two; Bayer Leverkusen—optimistic with their approach to this game—are looking to put their finger on the nerves of Borussia Dortmund as they prepare for the final showdown in Bundesliga title-race. Three; Jupp Heynckes will move to Bavaria, come summer, and this will be his last match while managing Leverkusen and taking them to Allianz Arena—win or lose; this is a recipe for Bundesliga purists and enthusiasts altogether.
Season of Bayer Leverkusen:
Ironically, it all started with a win on the road at Dortmund. Tranquillo Barnetta had managed to score a goal in 20th minute of their Bundesliga starter and right after three minutes Brazilian Renato Augusto extended the lead to 2-0 in favour of Bayer Leverkusen. With that first win in the first match of this season against Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen fans were hoping for some similar start to last season when they went on record-breaking 25 matches unbeaten run. However, in their next match which happened to be Rheine derby against ‘Gladbach at BayArena, they succumbed to 6-3 defeat and showed their “Neverkusen” symptoms quite earlier.
Since then, Bayer Leverkusen have lost four matches in total; of which, they lost three at home (Borussia Monchengladbach, Borussia Dortmund, and Mainz) while only time they were defeated playing away this season was another certain Bavaria side: FC Nürnberg, if that manages to “ease” some Munich fans. Playing away; they have let in only 13 goals this season, second best to Dortmund—while playing at home FC Bayern have let in only 10 goals, second best to Dortmund, of course; if that manages to “ease” Bayern fans out-there, again.
Main strength behind Bayer’s surging strides towards European gates has been their midfield. That’s particularly because Jupp Heynckes opted for 4-2-3-1 this season as the side heavily relied on dynamic midfield game-plan. With the likes of Arturo Vidal, Sidney Sam, Renato Augusto, Tranquillo Barnetta (less starts due to injuries), and Simon Rolfes who were later joined by Ballack in the second half of the season have excelled throughout the season and justified the expectations laid on them while Lars Bender, Hanno Balitsch, and Nicolai Jorgensen provided enough depth with their bench-roles.
It’s no wonder that of 59 goals scored by Bayer Leverkusen this season, 38 goals have come from midfield with Vidal leading the score-sheet by 9 goals as well as joint assists-leader with Gonzalo Castro as both have provided 8 goals for the team through their assists. Make no mistake about it; if FC Bayern Munich have to get something out of this match then they have to jam the Leverkusen midfield. This being the first match against Andries Jonker, he can spring some surprises for Bayer Leverkusen midfield but with injuries and suspensions to many of first-team players of FC Bayern, their best chance of winning is to create some “skirmish” within the Bayer Leverkusen’s midfield.
The strike-force of Leverkusen has been somewhat disappointing so far but that’s highly due to injuries that Stefan Kießling has suffered which, in result, have restricted him to only 11 starts this season. In his absence, Eren Derdiyok has shown some good signs about him and has been there when Leverkusen wanted him to score the most but with Kießling on the pitch; it’s all too different. Winter transfer of Patrick Helmes hasn’t hurt Bayer Leverkusen at all but he managed to score some important goals in first half of the season. Legend has it; he isn’t being missed amongst Bayer fans.
Defence of Bayer Leverkusen have two sides to it; rock-solid and shaky. Funnily, let’s say, it’s on their mood which side they choose to show. Let’s say, winds at Allianz Arena will determine which side they will bring in the circus. Whenever Bayer Leverkusen have played with high defensive line this season, they have always “managed to self-destruct” in the end. At home, they will mostly play like that. Always pushing higher-up the pitch and looking to help out the midfield where they have let in 22 goals this season. Playing away, they are more cautious at the back and try to maintain the discipline; hence; let in only 13. They always have found it difficult to battle the defence-splitters. If Bayern Munich can pull something of that sort then they are entitled to get the lead earlier in the game.
René Adler has been “Omni-impressive” between the sticks for Leverkusen. In his 27 starts this season, he has let in 32 goals and has made 70 saves so far while his fellow understudy custodian, Fabian Giefer provided much sigh-of-relief with his par-excellence performances whenever Adler was away on injuries.
It’s All About “Osram”:
This year’s involvement with European stage i.e. Europa League, it was always a question of “depth” while maintaining the challenge for Bundesliga. Jupp Heynckes has done a superb job as he went on to the second knock-out round of Europa League and keeping the pressure on teams on the top of Bundesliga. He managed to give some opportunities to young guns especially Demagoj Vida on European front while resting and benching the important players for those European fixtures. As Borussia Dortmund were chalked off in group stages, Bayer Leverkusen faced uphill and danger to lose the rhythm for the sake of European adventures. Fortunately for Leverkusen, that didn’t happen as they marched on receding Dortmund’s double-figure point lead at the top and here we are with both teams separated by five points and still 15 points to fight for.
For that, Heynckes deserves many accolades for what he has done with this Bayer Leverkusen side in his short stint there. Moving forward; Bayern Munich fans should know that they will be in safe hands once Heynckes takes over there. They know him from his last two stints there but this one is more like a “long-term” solution and hopefully, finally, ending the search of developing and instilling some football philosophy in the club under one classy manager.
This, from Bayer Leverkusen point of view, is the best time to visit Allianz Arena and record a win. Compared to Friedrich’s doubtfulness of playing the match, Bayern have worries over fitness of Schweinsteiger and Ribery while Robben and Badstuber will miss the game due to suspension. However; FC Bayern Munich is not the team to be underestimated. In fact, it’s not even right to write underestimate and Bayern Munich in one sentence. All the giants do carry their swagger and they can turn the tides anytime whatever the situations may be. They have every right to be feared of.
On one hand, it is yet to be seen on how FC Bayern Munich will carry their pieces after Louis van Gaal’s departure then on the other side, Bayer Leverkusen have boosted up with the latest “revival” of Stefan Kießling and Tranquillo Barnetta. The writer of this post suggests that if Barnetta is given the start in the match on left wing with Sidney Sam on right then it’s almost impossible for Bayern to win this match. It might even end in a draw but not in a loss for Leverkusen fans, then. However; with Bundesliga you never know!
It has become some sort of a norm that “bygones” do come to haunt Bayern Munich in long-term. We saw that in Mats Hummels. Will we see that with Michael Ballack? That is a question to be answered this Sunday. However; Ballack is more of a part to Bayer Leverkusen than that of Bayern but he might feel that some irrelevant attitude of Bayern hierarchy in his last days at Allianz Arena do need some “straightening up”.
Things suggest that former Leverkusen man from “Neverkusen year”. Jörg Butt will make a return at goalie-post in this match and with him between the sticks, Leverkusen will have to push harder to get anything out of this match but if any side has to worry enough about this match is not Bayer Leverkusen.