The fall is always, it seems, on the way after the slippery part of the road has been negotiated. In a difficult start to 2021 for Bayer Leverkusen, Peter Bosz has tried many things to shake his team out of their funk. This week, the coach prescribed to the old adage of never changing a winning team. He kept the same XI that won, crucially, at Borussia Mönchengladbach last week, the first time that he had named the same starting line-up for successive Bundesliga matches in over a year. Trust appeared to be the watchword of the week.
So why, then, when Leverkusen knew a win would lift them back into the top four, was it Arminia Bielefeld celebrating on the Bay-Arena pitch by mid-Sunday afternoon? Make no mistake, they deserved to on a day of landmarks, with a first win for new coach Frank Kramer and only a second away win of the season. The other had been at doomed Schalke, which accounted for half of the six-point yield from their previous 11 away games this term.
An uninitiated onlooker would never have guessed that to be the case after smartly taken goals by Ritsu Doan and Masaya Okugawa – marking the first time two Japanese players had scored for a team in the same Bundesliga match. Bielefeld were calm and in control before Patrik Schick’s disputed late strike belatedly cast a doubt over the destiny of the points on offer. It left Leverkusen, who had plenty of possession and chances to get it done, almost lost for words.
“I don’t know,” said a perplexed Nadiem Amiri, who had spurned an excellent early chance before Doan’s opener, when pressed on why his team had been defeated. “In the end every game looks the same. We have possession, we create opportunities, but we don’t make the most of them and concede weird goals.” By now Bosz knows not to take it personally; a coach whose outlook and philosophy seems to fit Leverkusen’s players so well, and whose once-challenged tactics are clearly not the problem.
“Ultimately it goes into the minds of the players,” he sighed, and it’s nothing new. It recalled the situation after last season’s away fixture at Gladbach, a potential face-off for fourth place which Die Werkself won, as they did this year, and followed it with a shambolic 4-1 home defeat to Wolfsburg, underpinned by inexplicable individual errors which cost them dearly in their eventual fifth-place finish.
The joy of last week’s win at Borussia-Park was matched only be the feeling of relief that surrounded it and perhaps, speculated Bosz, that was the issue. “After one game, you can’t think we’re back,” he complained. In that sense, a vulnerable-looking Bielefeld, facing financial issues off the field as well as difficulties on it, were perhaps the worst possible opponent.
Who knows how Leverkusen, arguably the best team in the Bundesliga up until Christmas, will react to another high-stakes-for-both game in Berlin against Hertha next Sunday? Bosz may just be reduced to hoping that the opposition’s inability to produce a consistent 90 minutes is greater than his own team’s. If Leverkusen fall short again this term, personnel at every level of the club will face difficult questions.
Bayern Munich’s embarrassingly easy win at Werder Bremen was notable for two things. Firstly, Robert Lewandowski’s 268th Bundesliga goal, which took him level with Klaus Fischer in second place on the all-time top scorer list (he also hit the woodwork three times). Secondly, it extended Bayern’s lead at the top to four points in combination with Leipzig’s 1-1 draw with Eintracht Frankfurt, who fought back well after conceding an opener to Emil Forsberg. The club also brushed off speculation linking Julian Nagelsmann with the Bayern job, should Hansi Flick respond to Germany’s overtures. “I don’t have the feeling that Julian is no longer hungry here and is no longer interested in RB Leipzig,” the club’s managing director, Oliver Mintzlaff, told Sky.
Borussia Dortmund completed a good week by beating Hertha and moving to within two points of fourth-placed Frankfurt, aided and abetted by Rune Jarstein completely losing sight of Julian Brandt’s long-range opener (“Jule said there was a gust of wind,” said Hertha captain Niklas Stark afterwards). Youssoufa Moukoko’s finely-taken goal to seal it was the 16-year-old’s first at home and leaves the Berliners in big trouble, on their worst run in 11 years (one win in 11 games) and now in the relegation play-off spot after Arminia Bielefeld’s win.
Nothing is going right for Borussia Mönchengladbach either before their Champions League return against Manchester City. Gladbach fell to a sixth straight defeat in all competitions against Augsburg on Friday, despite playing well for long spells. Dortmund-bound Marco Rose was again backed by Max Eberl, with the sporting director insisting he “has done an outstanding job for our club … as of today I’m of the opinion that we have the coach who help us to finish this season successfully. “
Wolfsburg are looking increasingly destined for Champions League qualification, with their 5-0 win over poor Schalke maintaining a six-point gap to Dortmund in fifth. It could easily have been more after a week in which their coach, Oliver Glasner, showed his authority in dealing with John Anthony Brooks and Marin Pongracic after they were caught attending an illegal party. Both were fined but played on Saturday.
As for Schalke, results on the pitch are almost becoming irrelevant, with relegation inevitable and the usual chaos taking over. A solid opening half-hour was abruptly punctured by a bizarre Shkodran Mustafi own goal (“pure Schalke”, as Bild described it). Getting next season’s ducks in a row is the priority, with a growing desire to get former manager Ralf Rangnick as sporting director. Leipzig’s Robert Krösche has already ruled himself out of the role.
Celebrations for Sasa Kalajdzic, who cemented his status of one of the revelations of the season with the second goal in Stuttgart’s 2-0 win over Hoffenheim. The Austrian striker missed scoring the first by a whisker before it went in off unfortunate defender Kasim Adams. This was his seventh successive scoring game in the Bundesliga, matching Fredi Bobic’s record from 1995-96. Kalajdzic offered his thanks to the excellent Silas Wamangituka, who laid on both goals. “He marches through (the defence) like he’s doing the slalom,” he enthused.
Pressure is mounting (again) on Markus Gisdol at Köln. A second-half goal by Union captain Christopher Trimmel (his first in the Bundesliga, at the age of 34) condemned Effzeh to defeat in Berlin and left them just a point above the drop zone, with Mainz beating Freiburg on Saturday. Sporting director Horst Heldt said that “of course” the coach will be in charge against Dortmund this Saturday, but declined to back Gisdol unequivocally. Köln’s next match after that is a challenging trip to Wolfsburg.
Union Berlin also became the first Bundesliga club to offer voluntary Covid-19 tests, with over 160 stewards, journalists and others taking up the chance. No positive results were recorded, according to Bild reporters.