10-man Bayern fail to shrug off poor record at Leverkusen

LEVERKUSEN, Germany —

An injury-hit Bayern Munich maintained its eight-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga following a goalless draw at Bayer Leverkusen. The German champions, who finished the match with 10-man after Xabi Alonso’s dismissal, had the chances in the second half to steal the points, but weren’t able to shrug off their recent poor record at the BayArena.

With Pep Guardiola nursing a lengthy injury list, including practically all of his available central defenders, there was a feeling that Bayern was as vulnerable as ever this season in Leverkusen. Criticism over winter training camps in Qatar, negative news stories about player behavior and confirmation of Guardiola’s move to Manchester City have certainly made preparation for a defining period far from ideal.

BUNDESLIGA RESULTS

At this pregame media conference this week, Guardiola bizarrely accused several German newspapers of not bothering to ask him a question about football since he joined the club in 2013. He claimed a lack of respect towards coaches, while brushing off worries around his agreement with Man City. This was the sort of appearance you would expect from a coach under pressure, or with his heart set elsewhere.

Most of Guardiola’s defensive options were missing for the trip to Leverkusen where Bayern has won once in their last six league meetings. Joshua Kimmich continued as an auxilary centerback alongside Holger Badstuber with Jerome Boateng and Mehdi Benatia injured. The only change was to leave Thomas Muller on the bench, in place of Arturo Vidal who returned to the fold.

Perhaps the best illustration of the first half was the foul-count — the number of fouls committed surpassed double figures before the 20-minute mark. Leverkusen was aggressive in the center of the field, but that purpose was sorely lacking in forward areas. In the 21st minute, Hakan Calhanoglu’s searching ball found Karim Bellarabi on the left. The German winger was quick to aim for Hernandez, on the shoulder of the last defender, but the Mexican was a few inches off the pace.

The next 60 seconds of action was the most threatening in the half from the German champions. Coman beat Jonathan Tah in one-versus-one situation on the left-wing, but the Frenchman was stopped in his paths by alert goalkeeping from Bernd Leno. The corner-kick which followed was volleyed wide of the target by Arjen Robben who, at times, showed great balance and poise to avoid the physicality of the hosts.

Seven minutes later, Bayern countered off the scraps of a long clearance with Robert Lewandowski carrying the ball down the right-flank. The Polish striker, linked with Real Madrid this week once more, was marshalled superbly by 19-year-old defender Tah who is considered as one of the brightest German centerbacks in the Bundesliga. After 31 minutes of football, "Chicharito" Hernandez had amassed just one touch of the ball.

Early in the second half, both sides shuffled their respective packs. Schmidt introduced Roberto Hillbert for Jedvaj at full-back, while Thiago Alcantara replaced former Leverkusen player Vidal in midfield. Hernandez threatened with a long-range, dipping volley, which landed just past the post — and forced substitute Muller to fall into the side-netting as he took a break to watch the action.

Leverkusen’s best passage of combination play followed two minutes later as the home side looked likeliest to break the deadlock. The excellent Kevin Kampl spun superbly on the six-pence, finding Wendell whose cut-back found Calhanoglu, but the midfielder’s powerful strike could only cannon back against Kimmich.

Referee Knut Kircher was a busy man throughout, but he had a serious decision to ponder in the 56th minute. Robben collected the loose ball from a Leverkusen corner and ran half the length of the field before being chopped down by Wendell. The Brazilian fullback was maybe a tad fortunate in the build-up to his attempt to win the ball back, which was as clean as a whistle.

Muller was on at the hour mark and Guardiola tinkered with his attack, bringing Coman to the right, while Douglas Costa stuck to the left. The change to outside wingers brought really concerted pressure in the Bayern attacking-third of the pitch. Had Christoph Kramer been able to put his laces through a loose ball on 61 minutes, the home side could have taken the lead. The effort — he had several bites at the cherry — was tame.

With a new impetus brought by Muller, Bayern was on the ascendency and bossed the final 20 minutes. Coman squared the ball for Müller who shot over on 63 minutes before skying a great chance a minute later, which was put on a plate by Costa on the left. The final attempt fell to perhaps the ideal player in Lewandowski who scuffed his shot off target from close range.

Although Bayern would hold on to a point, Guardiola’s men would end with ten-men after Alonso was shown a second yellow card for a professional foul on Hernandez. Leverkusen drop out of the top-four despite picking up a share of the spoils, while the gap at the top of the table stays at eight points following Dortmund’s draw in Berlin.