Before kick-off this entertaining top of the table match-up was billed as the fixture of the week, but in the end a reinvigorated and rejigged FC Bayern München were just too strong for a determined but ultimately toothless Bayer Leverkusen.
Coming into the game the Rhinelanders were the in-form side having just steamrollered Italian side Lazio to qualify for the group stages of the UEFA Champions League, while Bayern could only look back at a hard-fought win against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim – conceding the fastest goal in Bundesliga history before fighting back with ten men to seal a last-gasp victory. With both sides having collected six points from their opening two matches, something had to give.
Before the game the capacity 75,000 at the Allianz Arena crowd bade an emotional farewell to fan favourite Claudio Pizarro, who was thanked for the years of great service during his two spells at FC Bayern. A true fan’s player, the Peruvian striker had also tweeted during the week that he was always a Bayern man – in response to a rumour surrounding a move to city rivals TSV 1860.
Following the injury to Medhi Benatia and the unfortunate dismissal of Jérôme Boateng against TSG, Bayern coach Pep Guardiola was left with no fit and able centre-backs. Ever the innovator, the Catalan started with a new three-man defensive unit consisting of Juan Bernat, David Alaba and skipper Philipp Lahm. Dante meanwhile was left on the bench, with transfer rumours flying around him.
With Bernat and Lahm shoring up the back line Xabi Alonso slotted into the midfield holding role behind Arturo Vidal and Thiago, with Thomas Müller, Arjen Robben and Douglas Costa providing a dynamic-looking attacking midfield triumvirate behind striker Robert Lewandowski. Just looking at this lineup and the way things would turn out against a quality opponent, one had to ask whether there was any need for specialist centre-backs at all.
Bayern started off the stronger in what quickly became a decent physical contest, with Bayern racking up the opportunities in front of goal and their opponents collecting yellow cards as both Wendell and Christoph Kramer found their way into referee Florian Meyer’s notebook. While Bayer were physical, Bayern remained patient.
With twenty-six minutes on the clock the home side opened their account, with Costa the creator. The Brazilian has so far turned into the buy of the season following his 30 million Euro move from Ukrainians Shakhtar Donetsk, and this time it was poor Roberto Hilbert who was left helpless as the dynamic winger collected the ball and stormed past him down the left, sending in the perfect cross for Müller to stab the ball home from close range past Bernd Leno. It was the Der Raumdeuter’s 75th goal in his 200th appearance in the famous red Trikot.
Costa almost doubled Bayern’s lead after seeing an effort bounce off the woodwork, but at the other end free-kick specialist Hakan Çalhanoğlu tested Manuel Neuer with a well-struck effort that was tipped against the top of the crossbar by the Bayern ‘keeper. It was the perfect example of a scene involving the man touted by many as one of the best dead-ball specialists in world football at the moment with the world’s best between the sticks.
The second half saw little change in the flow of the game as Guardiola’s men continued to boss the possession and territory. There was good claim for a penalty as Robben was felled in the box, and the Dutchman then released Lewandowski who hit his shot straight at Leno only to have the ball rebound off his body and wide of the target. It was a matter of if rather than when Bayern would score their second, but when it came there was a whiff of luck about it.
As the ball was floated into the Leverkusen box Vidal went down under the challenge from Hilbert, and referee Meyer immediately pointed to the spot. Replays suggested that the call was a little harsh, but on balance Bayern were more than worth a two-goal lead. Müller kept his cool and drilled the ball straight down the middle to notch up his second of the match and fifth of the season.
With just under twenty minutes remaining the third goal arrived, courtesy of another spot-kick. Again the decision was debatable, with the truly unfortunate Hilbert’s arm getting in the way of Costa’s cross. Müller had the chance of wrapping things up and completing his hat-trick, but unselfishly handed the opportunity to Robben. Given his display the Dutchman deserved to get his name on the scoreboard, and he made no mistake as he found the bottom right-hand corner.
With Bayern safely in front Bernat made way for Dante, who as it turned out was making his final appearance for Die Roten before signing a contract with rivals VfL Wolfsburg.
Leno twice denied Lewandoski as the Pole threatened to score a fourth, but in the end the 3-0 win was a fair reflection of a game that more than ironed out the differences between the defending champions and a team seen by many commentators and pundits as a legitimate threat to the Bavarian hegemony. Borussia Dortmund may also have had a great start to the season, but Bayern remain the team to beat once again in the Bundesliga.
FC Bayern München 3:0 (1:0) Bayer 04 Leverkusen
Müller 26., pen 60., Robben pen 71. / –
FC Bayern: Neuer, Lahm (c), Alonso, Alaba, Bernat (72. Dante), Vidal, Thiago (82. Rode), Müller, Robben (78. Götze), Costa, Lewandowski
Leverkusen: Leno, Hilbert, Tah, Papadopoulos, Wendell (78. Boenisch), Kramer, Bender (c), Bellarabi, Çalhanoğlu (61. Kruse 61), Mehmedi (46. Brandt), Kießling
Yellow Cards: Juan Bernat, Thiago / Wendell, Kramer, Kruse