Leon Bailey and lucky Leverkusen hold their nerve to beat Bayern

Andy Brassell on 2 December 2019

It’s hard to get too far into the general lexicon of the Bundesliga without Bayern-Dusel coming up. It’s more than the rub of the green. It represents the feeling that the big bad wolf, no matter the plan you hatch, the traps you set and the amount you’re prepared to struggle against fate, will eventually get his dinner. It’s about the inevitability of Bayern Munich always, in the final analysis, coming out on top.

Saturday was not an afternoon to leave the Bundesliga glossary open at that page. After Bayer Leverkusen left the Allianz Arena with a wholly unexpected win courtesy of Leon Bailey’s excellent double strike, the visitors didn’t struggle to find an explanation for how they had weathered a genuine deluge of second-half pressure from the irritated home side.

“We were lucky,” coach Peter Bosz told Sky. “That’s what was missing last week (in a 1-1 draw with Freiburg). “The first 30 minutes were really good, when we put them under pressure and scored the goal, but afterwards we left spaces that were far too big (to leave) against a team like Bayern. So we were lucky.” His livewire forward Kevin Volland, who laid on both of Bailey’s goals that won the day, was just as blunt. “In the second half, of course, we were lucky,” he said. He even – as Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Thomas Gröbner pointed out – used the very word, Dusel, to describe what had guided his team to the finish line. “Only with luck can one win in Munich,” as defender Sven Bender put it.

Lukas Hradecky (left) denied Bayern’s Serge Gnabry on multiple occasions.
Lukas Hradecky (left) denied Bayern’s Serge Gnabry on multiple occasions. Photograph: Sebastian Widmann/Bongarts/Getty Images

Lukas Hradecky, who pulled off a string of great saves including a jaw-dropping double stop from Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Müller, deserved his fair share of it. The Finnish goalkeeper lost a contact lens in the first half and “could hardly see anything for the last 20 minutes of it,” he said. “You trying playing against Bayern with one eye.” He was outstanding, every bit the player that persuaded the club to cash in on Bernd Leno in 2018 when they brought him in on a free from Eintracht Frankfurt.

Hradecky’s excellence was enough that Bayern were never going to jump to doomy conclusions after their first misstep under Hansi Flick. “There wasn’t much missing,” suggested Hradecky’s opposite number Manuel Neuer, while Müller – whose goal that briefly bought Bayern first-half parity was his first after 21 scoreless games – talked of Leverkusen’s “efficiency.” Karl-Heinz Rummenigge boldly trumpeted his support for Flick and pledged that, at the winter break, the parties might sit down and thrash out a longer-term arrangement.

Yet this was no act of God. Bosz expanded on the performance to praise Leverkusen’s “character and mentality”, which has not always matched their craft. This was a team of talent showing their desire, and none more so than Bailey. He had shone so brightly on his 2018 entry into the first team that a big-money move to Chelsea, Bayern (post-Ribéry and Robben) or elsewhere had been considered an inevitability, before he hit the wall.

Bosz’s predecessor Heiko Herrlich criticised Bailey’s lack of focus and had turfed him out of the XI. Before Saturday he hadn’t played in the Bundesliga for nearly a month, after being brought on to try and save the game against Borussia Mönchengladbach and being swiftly sent off for an awful challenge on Patrick Hermann. But here, Bailey was at his best – direct, dangerous and deadly. After each of his two finishes he celebrated with an air of defiance, but opened up after the game.

“You doubt yourself,” he admitted, “but there were people around me who supported me and it did me good to help the team with my comeback.” That sort of honesty and application – just like young French winger Moussa Diaby filling in at left-back during the late siege – will turn Bosz’s team from interesting into insistent.

Talking points

• It was eat or be eaten for Lucien Favre in Dortmund’s trip to Hertha after a poor run, worsened by the controversy of Jadon Sancho’s dropping to the bench for the Champions League clash in Barcelona for lateness. Sancho was reprieved here, starting the match – and accordingly so was Favre, as the English teenager scored the opener. What most impressed the Dortmund brass, though, was their team’s resolve after Hertha, in Jürgen Klinsmann’s first game as coach, pulled the score back to 2-1 and gained a man advantage when Mats Hummels was sent off for a second booking before half-time. “The most important thing,” said sporting director Michael Zorc, “(was that) we saw a real team on the pitch, which played and worked for each other. It’s been weeks since the team looked like a team.”

Dortmund’s head coach Lucien Favre hugs Jadon Sancho after the final whistle.
Dortmund’s head coach Lucien Favre hugs Jadon Sancho after the final whistle in Berlin. Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images

• Hertha, meanwhile, were buoyed by their own performance, and the arrival of Klinsmann on the bench as given the club a much-needed sprinkling of glamour – the scrum of photographers around the bench, with the new boss doing his own selfie too, was a rare sight for the Olympiastadion. Klinsmann has a lot on his plate though; so much so that he failed to notice YouTuber Marvin W had smuggled himself into Sunday’s training session, before assistant Henrik Kuchno spotted him and had him thrown out.

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• RB Leipzig briefly took led the Bundesliga after a win at Paderborn but it is Gladbach that remain the league’s great entertainers, and they retook top spot by beating Freiburg 4-2 on Sunday with Breel Embolo running the show. The Swiss striker scored twice, had one disallowed, missed a penalty and laid on the third for Hermann. It all adds up to their best start since the 1976/77 title win, with Bayern up next Saturday. “We allowed too much out wide and from dead balls,” noted goalkeeper Yann Sommer, so Embolo and Marcus Thuram might have to weigh in heavily for Die Fohlen to prevail against the champs.

• It was a good weekend too for Schalke, who faced Union on Friday night knowing a 4-0 win would have taken them to the top of the table, albeit temporarily, for the first time since April 2010. They got the win in the end thanks to a beautifully constructed late winner by Suat Serdar, underlining the team’s growth under David Wagner. The match was also significant for the first public appearance of disgraced chairman Clemens Tönnies this season, back in the stand after his insufficiently long ban for using racist language.

Schalke 2-1 Union Berlin, Bayern 1-2 Leverkusen, Cologne 1-1 Augsburg, Hertha Berlin 1-2 Dortmund, Hoffenheim 1-1 Fortuna Dusseldorf, Paderborn 2-3 RB Leipzig, Wolfsburg 2-3 Werder Bremen, Borussia Mönchengladbach 4-2 Freiburg

• Sometimes, it just takes a moment when it all clicks and after over two months and eight games without a win, Leonardo Bittencourt’s plunging header did that for Werder Bremen, to give them a lead at Wolfsburg. “With Leo’s goal,” coach Florian Kohfeldt told Sky, “it all came together.” There was an equaliser for Die Wölfe by William to make it 2-2 but Werder were sufficiently galvanised to chase a winner. They got it through a sublime Milot Rashica goal, which sparked big celebrations and pulled them away from the danger zone.

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Borussia M'gladbach 13 13 28
2 RB Leipzig 13 21 27
3 Schalke 04 13 8 25
4 Bayern Munich 13 16 24
5 Borussia Dortmund 13 9 23
6 Freiburg 13 6 22
7 Bayer Leverkusen 13 3 22
8 Hoffenheim 13 -2 21
9 Wolfsburg 13 2 20
10 Eintracht Frankfurt 12 3 17
11 Union Berlin 13 -3 16
12 Werder Bremen 13 -6 14
13 Augsburg 13 -7 14
14 Fortuna Dusseldorf 13 -8 12
15 Mainz 12 -14 12
16 Hertha Berlin 13 -9 11
17 Cologne 13 -16 8
18 Paderborn 13 -16 5

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