World football was being treated to a huge match at the top of the German Bundesliga on Friday as leaders Bayern Munich were hosted by fourth-placed Bayer Leverkusen. The two sides were looking to continue good runs of form, with Bayer unbeaten in their last five games, and Bayern winning four of their last five.
The game started with the two sides competing well as Leverkusen looked to put early pressure on Bayern by attacking them. Their refusal to sit back saw an even first-half, but the visitors took the lead through a stabbed finish from Javi Martinez following some poor defending from a corner.
Franck Ribery then made it 2-0 with a drilled finish following a superb ball from man of the match James Rodriguez, but the Bundesliga’s top scorer Kevin Volland then saw his strike deflected home to see the home side claw their way back into the game. James Rodriguez then won and scored from a free-kick in the dying moments to make it 3-1 to Bayern and seal all three points for the away side.
Javi Martinez smashes home the opener
Both sides were battling hard in the opening stages which could have seen either go ahead. However, it was once again the league leaders that took advantage of their own attack ability as they scored the opener, albeit, from a very unlikely source.
Arjen Robben swung in a corner that seemed to be meandering away from goal, but Julian Brandt was caught under the ball as he tried to clear the cross, which allowed Arturo Vidal to head at goal. The header itself was very poor, but it bounced off Sven Bender which allowed Javi Martinez to smash home, giving Bernd Leno no chance at all, with the defender scoring his first goal of the season.
Leverkusen will have felt that they did not deserve to go a goal down as they had battled so well throughout the first-half, but they were punished for their sole mistake in the opening-45. If Leverkusen do want to challenge higher up the table, they must cut out their mistakes, with Bayern adept at making their opponents pay.
Leverkusen almost punished again from a corner
It would have been the perfect first-half for Bayern, and a nightmare one for their hosts if they had managed to net their second goal of the evening in quick succession.
The problems were once again caused from a corner as James Rodriguez swung a ball into the box that Niklas Sule rose highest to head wide. The chance was a huge one with Leverkusen once again cut open from a corner. The inquest began as soon as the ball went dead, with Sule easily losing his marker.
Leverkusen were punished for their poor marking for the opening goal, while they should have been 2-0 down from the next corner. Considering they had played so well in the first-half in open play, it will have come as a real sucker-punch that in the moments where they had the chance to get organised, they failed, and they were punished for it.
Ribery takes advantage of Bayer’s lack of a midfield
Time and time again, Bayer were caught out in the middle as their midfield was easily bypassed. Lars Bender and Dominik Kohr are good players, but they are more workman in their approach as they look to chase down their opponents and battle for the ball before moving it onto their more creative players. However, at no point did this work on Friday.
Bayern waltzed past their opponent’s midfield as if they were not there, and it set up a glut of chances that they failed to take, but the second goal was always coming. James Rodriguez played a precise ball onto the foot of Franck Ribery who had so much time and space and, following a shimmy and a change of direction, he was able to drill the ball into the back of the net to make it 2-0 and give Bayern the security of another goal.
Perhaps Leverkusen would have been better off dropping another player into midfield to help the two centre-midfielders as they were second best throughout the game but, as it was, the home side were punished for their anonymity in the middle.
What will irk them even more is the fact that Leon Bailey almost made it 1-1 moments before Ribery’s goal. The youngster danced past Sule as he weaved in and out before he curled a sublime effort that beat everyone, but it clipped the top of the bar. On another night it would have been 1-1, but minutes later the home side were 2-0 down.
Volland cuts the arrears in half and then wastes a glorious chance
Leverkusen went from having very little threat to being back on level terms, but it was hardly deserved when taking into account how the second-half was going. Kevin Volland was given the ball on the right-wing as he chose to cut inside, allowing him to run past David Alaba, Ribery and Vidal. The challenges from the three players were embarrassing as their defending was abysmal in that moment, and it gave Volland the chance to strike the ball in via a deflection off Sule.
The goal seemed to wake the fans and players from their slumber, and it put Bayern under huge pressure. Indeed, Martinez, after scoring the opener, almost cost his side a goal as he gifted the ball to Leverkusen. Volland was then rolled in in the box but, on his favoured foot, he took an awful touch which allowed Bayern to close him down and force the ball out for a corner. While it was a wasteful moment, it displayed that the home side were suddenly up for the challenge.
Bayern roll on as Rodriguez stars while Leverkusen leave it too late
Bayern Munich opened up a 14 point lead at the top of the table on Friday as they claimed their 14th victory of the season. The league leaders look like they are once again coasting towards a league title with those below them continuing to falter. James Rodriguez was displaying his class throughout as he pulled the strings in the middle, and he managed to cap off his man of the match performance with a sumptuous free-kick that floated into the top corner to make it 3-1.
Leverkusen on the other hand were guilty of not getting off and running soon enough. The home side saw their impressive opening to the game come to nothing, and Bayern accelerated away from them. Of course, they did pull the deficit back to a single goal, but after Volland missed his second chance, it seemed to deflate the home side who are now 16 points short of Bayern, and they could fall out of the Champions League places if RB Leipzig win their next game.
Bayer Leverkusen: Leno 6 – Tah 5, S. Bender 6, Wendell 6 – Bellarabi 5 (Henrichs 6), Kohr 5 (Alario 6), L. Bender 5, Bailey 7 – Havertz 6, Barndt 5 (Mehmedi 6) – Volland 6.5.
Unused subs: Restos, Baumgartlinger, Aranguiz, Ozcan.
Bayern Munich: Ulreich 6 – Rafinha 6, Boateng 7, Sule 7, Alaba 6 – Rodriguez 9.5, Martinez 6, Vidal 7 – Robben 6 (Coman 6), Muller 7 (Tolisso 5), Ribery 7 (Wagner 6).
Unused subs: Bernat, Rudy, Starke, Kimmich.
Referee: Daniel Siebert