Bayer Leverkusen landed a big blow in the Bundesliga title race by beating Bayern Munich 3-0 to move five points clear at the top of the table.
Alejandro Grimaldo, the star of the show, struck the decisive goal for Leverkusen, the only unbeaten team left in Europe, shortly after half-time to double their lead following Bayern loanee Josip Stanisic’s first-half opener. Substitute Jeremie Frimpong added a third from range in stoppage-time with Manuel Neuer out of his goal.
Bayern boss Thomas Tuchel played a back five to match Leverkusen, although the tweak backfired, with the champions always second best at the BayArena. Harry Kane, the club’s record signing, had one of his quietest games since joining from Spurs.
“We started well but then errors started creeping in,” said Bayern coach Tuchel, whose team face Lazio in the Champions League last 16 on Wednesday. “I don’t have an explanation for why we did not get Harry more involved in the game.”
Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen, meanwhile, passed their biggest test yet as the head coach, touted as the frontrunner to succeed Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, showed why there is so much hype around him, moving the club a step closer to their first league title.
“It was a very important win but it is just three points,” said Alonso. “We have to keep going. It is still February and we need to remain calm.”
How Leverkusen outclassed Bayern
An eight-minute delay to the kick-off, caused by projectiles thrown onto the pitch from the stands, seemed to add to the tension on both sides as we endured a scrappy start to the top-of-the-table clash.
It quickly became apparent that Tuchel’s tactical surprise hadn’t worked as Leverkusen began to take charge of the game. Alonso’s side looked destined to land the first blow through Amine Adli, expertly played in by Florian Wirtz, but he was denied at the last.
Leverkusen made no mistake moments later when another chance arose. Bayern were punished for their slack defending by loanee Stanisic, perhaps the only person in the stadium to be muted in his celebration after he scored from Robert Andrich’s low cross at the back post.
The hosts grew in confidence after the opener, with Nathan Tella, the former Burnley forward, seeing a first-time volley kept out by Neuer. Bayern’s Dayot Upamecano had to produce a last-ditch tackle to remedy his error that allowed Adli through on goal.
There was no let up for Bayern after the break as wing-back Grimaldo, a free transfer in the summer, tormented them down the left. There was pandemonium at the BayArena when he squeezed a strike past Neuer at the near post five minutes into the second half.
Grimaldo nearly scored direct from a corner as he cut across the ball with his left foot to bring it back towards goal. Neuer was scrambling as he struck the upright with what surely would have been a goal of the season contender.
A Bayern comeback never felt likely, even when Tuchel returned to a back four, and the champions became desperate. Neuer’s questionable decision to come up for a corner in stoppage-time was punished spectacularly by Frimpong, who hit a post moments before.
Leroy Sane punched a camera in frustration at the final whistle, summing up the mood in Bavaria, where the pressure is growing on Tuchel. There will be questions for Kane too after he finished his most important game in a Bayern shirt with 20 touches and a single shot.
Tuchel: I can’t explain why we didn’t get Kane more involved
Bayern Munich head coach Thomas Tuchel:
“We started well but then errors started creeping in. We were not able to carve out any chances, even later in the game when we had five or six attacking players. I don’t have an explanation for why we did not get Harry more involved in the game.”
Kane: We need to turn this around quickly
Bayern Munich striker Harry Kane:
“We didn’t play well with the ball. We pressed well but when we got it we seemed to give it back to them. That allowed them to build momentum. In the final third we weren’t good in the one-vs-one battles or the duels. The final delivery wasn’t there. A really disappointing day with the ball.
“We’re five points behind but there’s lots of games to go. This one hurts, we wanted a different outcome but we have to focus on the Champions League and make up as many points as we can in the league as quick as we can.
“That’s not for us to decide [if Leverkusen are title favourites], that’s for everyone else to decide. We have to improve. We have to get better. The games are coming thick and fast so we have to turn it around quickly.”
Alonso calls for calm after ‘important win’
Bayer Leverkusen head coach Xabi Alonso:
“Today it was a very disciplined performance from my team. It was not easy but we waited for our chances. Maybe we did not have the ball too much today but we wanted to be dominant even without the ball.
“It was a very important win but it is just three points. We have to keep going. It is still February and we need to remain calm.”
Redknapp: Alonso the outstanding candidate for Liverpool job
Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp:
“You’d have to say [this is the perfect storm with Klopp leaving Liverpool at the end of the season].
“It’s a phenomenal rise because for somebody that was such a tremendous footballer. To then to go on and coach and make it look so easy – it’s only his second season as a manager. It’s been unbelievable the transformation.
“The differences [between him and Klopp] that people will look at will be the system, obviously they play three at the back. Liverpool, throughout all their successes, have played four at the back.
“Right now he is the outstanding candidate. It’s a big risk for him, but it’s a great opportunity, the opportunity of a lifetime. I don’t see how you can turn it down.
“In his mind, every night, he will be going to bed thinking about taking care of winning the title in Germany. If he goes to Liverpool, he will be thinking ‘this has to go right for me’. You are following one of the greats of football in Jurgen Klopp. It’s not going to be easy.
“But he knows he is going to have the support of all the fans if he gets the job, everyone will be buying into what he wants to do. I don’t see any candidates that are as good as him.”
Bayer Leverkusen continue their Bundesliga title challenge next Saturday as they travel to Heidenheim for a 2.30pm kick-off on February 17.
Bayern Munich now turn their attention to the Champions League with Thomas Tuchel’s side heading to Italy on Wednesday to face Lazio in the first leg of their Round of 16 tie; kick-off 8pm.
The Bavarians then return to Bundesliga action on February 18 with a trip to Bochum, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 4.30pm.
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