Pitchside Europe

Bayer Leverkusen: A defining victory


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1989 was a momentous year in 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. That is until last Sunday.

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

"Stunned" is an overused word in sports journalism but not with this game. It was only their third victory in Munich against the Bayern Munich machine which had made the perfect start to the season, setting a Bundesliga record of eight straight wins and only conceding two 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 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 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 eight games.

Stefan Kiessling said: "Now our pain and suffering is over and we have been released from the curse."

He sounded as if he was in Halloween mood or if he'd been watching too many Disney DVDs.

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 third division Arminia Bielefeld to reach the last 16.

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

This is down to new coaching team Sami Hyypia and Sasha Lewandowski, the former U19 coach, whose statistics are impressive. 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 did well to keep hold of young talents such as Lars Bender and Andre Schuerrle despite Chelsea's dramatic, £20 million bid for Schuerrle on transfer deadline day.

23-year-old defender Philipp Wollscheid signed on a five year 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's the 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 played 4-4-2 this season resulted in their worst defeat, 3-0 at Champions Borussia Dortmund.

Leverkusen are now fifth on 15pts the same as Dortmund.

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

After the 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 4 Northern Clubs Wolfsburg, Werder Bremen 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 season's major motivation.

Tony Jeffers
Eurosport 2 Bundesliga Commentator

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