They arrived talking about the influence one young superstar might bring to bear on the champions, and they left talking about the contribution of another. It ended up being scant consolation for Bayer Leverkusen after a chastening afternoon, but it was a reminder of just where they sit in the Bundesliga pecking order, for better or for worse.
Peter Bosz was supposed to fit into that template. Having fallen far short of expectations at Borussia Dortmund after a lightning-fast start, he arrived at the BayArena 18 months ago with all the elements to rehabilitate his reputation – a young, energetic talented squad suited to his style, and an environment with the room to crack a few eggs without the whole kitchen being closed down. Bosz began to rebuild his stock in spectacular fashion, hauling the team from treading water in ninth into the Champions League spots in his first half-season.
A calling card signposting that late term acceleration had been the win over Bayern Munich in February 2019, one of the champions’ few post-Christmas hiccups. Having won again against Bayern – albeit with a large degree of fortune – at Allianz Arena back in November, Bosz was aiming for an improbable third successive win over the behemoth as Leverkusen coach on Saturday.
That hope flickered brightly and briefly when Lucas Alario poked the home side into the lead but an afternoon that briefly promised to lift Bosz and his side to new heights ended up instead reinforcing the most common clichés about his teams. Bayern are, of course, irresistible, but there was no kicking down the door required here. Hansi Flick’s side were invited in and offered a three-course meal with cheeseboard to follow and as Bosz’s plans crumbled in the closing minutes of the first half, when Leon Goretzka and Serge Gnabry helped themselves to goals which swept the visitors into an unassailable 3-1 lead, Die Werkself’s coach could do little but shake his head dejectedly on the touchline.
There was ammunition for Bosz’s critics as Leverkusen made their own problems – Moussa Diaby surrendering possession to set Bayern on the way to engineering Kingsley Coman’s equaliser, Aleksandar Dragović flying out of position to create room for Goretzka to waltz through and steer in a shot that Lukas Hradecky could have done better with, or Joshua Kimmich’s straight ball that easily took out the goalkeeper’s protection and let Gnabry lob in a simple third– in an example of the soft underbelly that it is often claimed his charges have. Yet if the Dutchman can sometimes be justifiably accused of being inflexible from a philosophical standpoint, he couldn’t be held accountable for the way his side waned from their structure, shrinking in their shoes before our eyes.
Some may insist Bosz is dogmatic, but he is in a rare band of coaches who rarely makes excuses. He knew that the missing Kai Havertz, their best player, coveted by Bayern and a revelation since switching to centre-forward, would probably not have made the difference on this occasion. Havertz’s nominal replacement, the very different Alario, had provided a crafty finish for the opener (a moment that seemed several years before by the time the inevitable Robert Lewandowski got his 30th Bundesliga goal of the season) and frankly, it was at the other end that Leverkusen had their difficulties.
“The line-up might have looked like a brave one,” Bosz mused afterwards, with a nod to his unsuccessful deployment of Nadiem Amiri and Leon Bailey as wing-backs, “but I didn’t think we played bravely enough. You also have to be brave when you have possession of the ball.” That sort of confidence – something lacking in Diaby, the author of a very promising season but short of his best here – was something that Havertz might have provided.
It was certainly present in his de facto successor. In bending a stylish consolation goal around a diving Manuel Neuer in the closing moments, substitute Florian Wirtz became the youngest goalscorer in Bundesliga history at the age of 17 years 34 days, 48 younger than Nuri Sahin when he scored for Dortmund against Nürnberg in 2005. Wirtz showed his own sang froid, barely acknowledging the moment. Bosz appreciated the goal but cared more about the teachings of a tough afternoon. “The boy had his best lesson today since he started playing,” the coach emphasised.
For Bayern there is glory to come, with two wins from the last four games the maximum required to win the title for the eighth time in a row, even if they face Borussia Mönchengladbach next week minus the banned Lewandowski and Thomas Müller. They are also just 12 goals short of beating their 101-goal season record from the 1971-72 season. For Leverkusen there is just the dogfight for fourth place to follow – but they are led by a man more sanguine and realistic than his image would have you believe.
• “I don’t think there is anything inked,” said Julian Nagelsmann after Leipzig’s disappointing home draw with bottom side Paderborn in relation to the completion of Timo Werner’s projected move to Chelsea. It’s all technicalities, of course, with the deal only dependent on the Blues paying up before the clause deadline of 15 June (Kicker even suggested a small discount on that near-€60m fee might be applied). The striker didn’t have his best afternoon, missing a great late chance to win the game and then seeing Christian Strohdiek strike an equaliser almost immediately, having earlier created Patrik Schick’s opener.
• It was a great weekend, accordingly, for Borussia Dortmund, who should have beaten in-form Hertha by more than a single Emre Can goal (and were again victims of inexplicable VAR inactivity), but pulled seven points clear of fifth-placed Leverkusen as the three teams behind them all failed to win. After Jadon Sancho’s undershirt display last week, all Bundesliga teams took a knee before kick-off in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
• Gladbach are still fourth for now, despite an infuriating defeat at Freiburg, where they’ve not won since 2002. Alessane Pléa and sporting director Max Eberl were sent off in the space of a minute after Nils Pedersen’s record 24th Bundesliga goal as a substitute (he had only been on the pitch for 63 seconds) sealed the deal for Christian Streich’s Euro chasers.
• Some relief, at last, for David Wagner, as Schalke got their first point since the restart thanks to an excellent long-range goal by Everton loanee Jonjoe Kenny at Union Berlin, which changed the course of a game in which they had been a very distant second-best.
• And Paderborn’s Klaus Gjasula matched the largest tally of yellow cards received in a Bundesliga season when being booked for the 16th time, taking him ahead of Steffen Effenberg and level with Tomasz Hajto. With four games to make the record his own and Steffen Baumgart’s side battling to stay up, it would take a brave punter to back against Gjasula.