Bayer Leverkusen – A defining victory

1989 was a momentous year in modern history.

The Berlin Wall came down, the Velvet Revolution rippled across Czechoslovakia and the World Wide Web was invented.

It was also the last time that Bayer Leverkusen won in Munich. Until last Sunday, that is.

23 years of hurt were forgotten as Leverkusen led by Sporting Director Rudi Voeller celebrated deep into the night.  They were lucky that Oktoberfest finished three weeks ago or things could have got really messy.

“Stunning victory” is an overused expression in sports journalism but not with this game. It was only their 3rd victory in Munich against the Bayern Munich machine which had made the perfect start to the season, setting a Bundesliga record of 8 straight wins and only conceding 2 goals !

Leverkusen coach Sami Hyypia said before the game.

“It’s going to be tough for us but you never know – anything is possible in football”  .

And he should know. His Liverpool side had come back from 3-0 down at half time against mighty AC Milan to win the 2005 Champions League final.

Leverkusen defended superbly in a hard fought victory but a draw would have been a fair result and they owed more than a little to huge slices of luck – both goals were flukes !!

The first moment of madness came from the normally uber-reliable Philip Lahm providing a great assist for Stefan Kiessling. After Mario Mandzukic levelled with 13 minutes to go the hapless Jerome Boateng scored an own goal when Sydney Sam’ s misdirected header hit him in the face.

Bayern had conceded as many goals in one game as they had all season in 8 games !

Leverkusen coach Sasha Lewandowski  admitted they’d been lucky but knows how important victory could be.

“I’m really pleased the team have managed to achieve this result. Luck was certainly on our side. We were under a lot of pressure but that’s normal in Munich. But the team laid down a marker today. This win feels really special.”

Stefan Kiessling  sounded as if he was in Halloween mood or if he’d been watching too many Disney DVDs.

Now our pain and suffering is over and we have been released from the curse.” 

One victory doesn’ t make a season and Leverkusen must not get ahead of themselves.

They nearly crashed back down to earth on Wednesday in the German Cup needing extra time to see off 3rd division Arminia Bielefeld to reach the last 16.

But in the Bundesliga, victory over Bayern makes it 6 games unbeaten. And the most  erratic of teams do now seem to be finding some consistency.

This is down to the new coaching team of Sami Hyypia and Sasha Lewandowski, the former U-19 coach. Since replacing Robin Dutt on April Fools Day, they’ ve been far from a joke. Eight wins, five draws and just two defeats.  Not to mention they’re top of their Europa League group.

The consistency comes from having a settled side. Five Leverkusen players have started all nine games including three of the back five.

Crucially the club managed to keep hold of young talents such as Lars Bender and Andre Schuerrle despite Chelsea’s dramatic, 20 million pound bid for Schuerrle on transfer deadline day.

23 yr old defender Philipp Wollscheid, signed on a 5 yr deal from Nuremberg, is proving very good business. As well as being two footed and cool under pressure, he’s showing good leadership qualities at the back.  No wonder Bayer general manager Wolfgang Holzhäuser described him as “a jewel”.

And just as important in their success are the goals of Stefan Kiessling, who’sthe Bundesliga’s top scorer in 2012 with 19 goals.

The two coaches have also got their tactics right with a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 system which brings out the best in the side.  In fact the only time they’ve  played 4-4-2 this season resulted in their worst defeat, 3-0 at Champions Borussia Dortmund.

Leverkusen are  now 5th on 15pts the same as Dortmund.

This Sunday they  play their 1st Derby against Fortuna Duesseldorf since 1996/1997, the season when Fortuna were relegated and  Leverkusen finished runners up behind Bayern Munich.

After that Derby lottery, Leverkusen then face a tough run in to Christmas.

In form Schalke lie in wait on Matchday 12 aswell as games against the four Northern Clubs Wolfsburg, Werder Bremen, Hannover and Hamburg. If it’s to be a Merry Christmas, Leverkusen will have to play every bit as well as they did against Bayern.

Hyypia has stated this season’s goal is European football adding that Champions League would be nice.  NICE !  He obviously mastered the English art of understatement in his time at Liverpool .

For a man who got his hands on the Champions League with Liverpool in 2005 expect that competition to become the seasons major motivation.

Tony Jeffers

Eurosport 2 Bundesliga Commentator

Bundesliga action kicks off on Friday with Hertha Berlin hosting Ingolstadt  (18.30) followed by Eintracht  Frankfurt against Greuther Fuerth (20.30)

On Saturday,  Champions Borussia Dortmund look for their first back to back wins this season, against  a resurgent Stuttgart (15.30). In the big match Hamburg host Bayern Munich, in the North v South clash (18.30).

On Sunday there’s a Rhine Derby between Bayer Leverkusen and Fortuna Dusseldorf (15.30)  followed by Werder Bremen against Mainz. (17.30).

 

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