Over two hours of football couldn’t separate FC Bayern from DFB-Pokal quarter-final opponents Bayer 04 Leverkusen, with a pulsating encounter going all the way to the lottery of a penalty shootout. In the end the matter was decided by one crucial save from goalkeeping hero Manuel Neuer and a calm and composed winning strike from comeback kid Thiago Alcântara – with Bayern coach Pep Guardiola calmly watching from the sidelines on a small wooden chair, at times rocking gently.
With Bastian Schweinsteiger joining the long injury list after taking a knock against Borussia Dortmund at the weekend, the Bayern coach once again was faced with putting out a lineup geared to keeping things tight – with the only change being Mario Götze who slotted into the advanced midfield line in place of the absent Schweinsteiger.
On a clear Rhineland evening things started slowly, and one could argue that the opening twenty minutes were rather forgettable. With Bayern adopting a defensive stance the home side made most of the early running, but there was little going on to threaten either of the two goalkeepers. Bayern’s possession game was far from the usual standard, with Götze, Xabi Alonso and even the reliable Philipp Lahm guilty of a number of sloppy passes.
It took an unscripted moment to alter the flow of the game: utility man Sebastian Rode came on after thirty-four minutes to replace a hobbling Medhi Benatia, forcing Guadiola to revert back to a more orthodox Viererkette. With the energetic Rode slotting seamlessly into the midfield, almost immediately there was a change of pace. Five minutes before half-time Juan Bernat picked out Thomas Müller in space, but the combination of a slightly scuffed shot and some good positioning from Werkself ‘keeper Bernd Leno ensured a goalless finish to the first half.
If the first half was a rather bland starter, the second forty-five minutes were a far more edible main course. Youngster Julian Brandt shot wide for Leverkusen as Roger Schmidt’s side produced their first real attack of note, and at the other end Mario Götze could have made more of a chance that saw his header float wide of the target from an Alonso corner.
Right on the hour Bayern looked to have taken the lead when Robert Lewandowski’s firm and well-directed header found its mark, only for referee Felix Zwayer to call the Polish striker back for a push on Ömer Toprak – if one could call going for the ball a push. It was a poor decision by the official, but one that only served to being the game to the boil nicely. Five minutes later Neuer did well to advance and block a stinging shot from the sprightly Karim Bellarabi, and not to be outdone German Under-21 ‘keeper Leno reacted well at the other end to block another Lewandowski effort with an outstretched left leg.
One could feel the tension in the stands as the clock ticked into additional time at the end of the ninety, and neither side was taking anything for granted. Neuer safely collected another shot from Bellarabi – easy enough but similar to the Raffael effort that had squirmed past him for Mönchengladbach – and there was a massive heart-in-mouth moment just minutes from full-time as Rafinha got in a match-saving interception to deny Brandt who looked all set to pull the trigger as the loose ball rolled past Neuer towards the far post. A further dramatic moment saw sub Thiago shown the yellow card for a reckless high challenge on Stefan Kießling – a rash moment that on another evening might have seen a straight red.
The additional thirty minutes of extra time saw both sides slow down somewhat as tiredness started to take hold, but there were still opportunities to snatch the game. Perhaps the best chance fell to Götze, who swept his shot narrowly wide of the target with the goal at his mercy.
With both goalkeepers in excellent form, there was a sense of inevitability about the penalty shootout. In the end, it was the one save that would prove to be the difference between the two men between the posts – and ultimately the two teams. After Thomas Müller’s low spot kick had only narrowly avoided Leno’s outstretched right arm, Neuer flew boldly to his right to deny Drmić. From that point on every penalty was summarily dispatched, leaving Thiago to win it for Bayern. As Guardiola sat quietly on the side as if watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones, his Spanish compatriot rolled the ball calmly into the right-hand side of the net, sending Leno the wrong way.
It had been a tight game where no one side had really deserved to lose, and one could only offer plaudits to a brave Leverkusen side that had come up short in a dramatic shootout for the second time this season. As for Bayern, their long run cup run continued with their sixteenth win on the bounce in the competition – keeping the dreams of yet another treble alive.
Soon after the final whistle the draw was made for the semi-finals at the end of the month, with Bayern up against old foes Borussia Dortmund at the Allianz Arena and surprise team Arminia Bielefeld – shootout winners over high-flying Mönchengladbach – taking on VfL Wolfsburg.
It had been a tiring and mentally draining match for the injury-ravaged Reds, but as the season slowly reaches its climax there is little time for contemplation. With their place in the last four of the cup assured, the hard work continues at the weekend with a return to Bundesliga action and a home fixture against Eintracht Frankfurt.
Man of the Match
Jérôme Boateng had a great game, Juan Bernat showed again why he can be seen as one of Bayern’s best recent buys, Sebastian Rode helped change the complexion of the game with his strength and energy, Robert Lewandowski was again in the thick of the action and arguably should have scored the winner long before any penalty shootout, and Thiago netted the winning spot-kick. However the man of the match has to be Manuel Neuer, who crowned another great performance with his flying save in the Elfmeterschießen.
Apart from some loose stuff at the start, a solid all-round performance from Die Roten with everybody playing their part in what was a hard-won match against a decent and in-form opponent. Perhaps the most watchable person however was not on the pitch, but just off it. I am sure there is going to be a lot more said about Pep Guardiola and his wooden chair.
DFB Pokal, Quarter-Final
BayArena, Leverkusen, 08.04.2015
Bayer 04 Leverkusen 3:5 PSO (0:0, 0:0) FC Bayern
– / –
Penalties: 0-1 Müller, Drmić SAVED, 0-2 Lewandowski, 1-2 Bender, 1-3 Alonso, 2-3 Castro, 2-4 Götze, 3-4 Çalhanoğlu, 3-5 Thiago
Leverkusen: Leno – Hilbert, Toprak, Spahic (90. Papadopoulos), Wendell – L. Bender, Rolfes (98. Çalhanoğlu) – Bellarabi, Castro, Brandt – Kießling (90.+3. Drmić)
FC Bayern: Neuer – Benatia (34. Rode), Boateng (116. Badstuber), Danté – Rafinha, Lahm (68. Thiago), Alonso, Götze, Bernat – Müller, Lewandowski
Yellow Cards: Bender, Toprak, Jedvaj (bench) / Danté, Thiago
Originally published on the website of the Red Dragons London, the United Kingdom’s premier FC Bayern München fan club
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