Bayer Leverkusen pulled five points clear of Bayern Munich with a 3-0 win at the BayArena, while Deniz Undav keeps strengthening his case for a Germany call-up…
A victory for the ages. League leaders Bayer Leverkusen beat record champions Bayern Munich 3-0 at the BayArena, with the scoreline doing anything but flatter the hosts, who had eight shots on target compared to their opponents' one. One single shot for Bayern: their least in the Bundesliga since 2016.
Xabi Alonso put in a tactical masterclass, surprising with a hybrid 3-4-3 which saw Álex Grimaldo and Nathan Tella providing the width, with the former also inverting when in possession and the latter manning the right flank in the final third having been preferred to Jeremie Frimpong. The question of who would start up front between Patrick Schick and Borja Iglesias was answered with Amine Adli, a midfielder by trade.
Watch: Highlights of Leverkusen's 3-0 win over Bayern
"Today, for me, the defensive work of Nathan, Flo [Wirtz] and Amine Adli has been fantastic," said a delighted Alonso after the game. "[Jamal] Musiala and [Leroy] Sané were waiting to find this space [Harry] Kane was dropping - he likes to drop - so we have taken many right decisions."
He wasn't wrong. Bayern-owned Josip Stanišić got the opener before Grimaldo and Frimpong - having entered the fray for Tella on 65 minutes - completed a famous win. It sent Die Werkself five points clear, and that other unwanted nickname of Neverkusen could soon be fading fast.
2) Bayern reboot?
And what of Bayern? No second-placed team have ever boasted 50 points at this stage of the season, so the champions are still enjoying a fine campaign under Thomas Tuchel, even if it might not feel like it after the Leverkusen reverse.
There will be wound-licking in Bavaria, but no rash decisions ahead of their UEFA Champions League last 16 clash with Lazio on Wednesday.
"We deserved to lose; Leverkusen were simply better," said Bayern CEO Jan-Christian Dreesen. "Luckily we still have 13 matchdays left and we have to hope for a couple of slip-ups from Leverkusen. Even though it's difficult today, we're of course not giving up. We have to collect ourselves and look forward again. On Wednesday against Lazio we have the chance to forget this game."
Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Müller and Raphaël Guerreiro are among those who might hope to return to the starting line-up for a Bayern who still boast one of the most formidable squads in the Bundesliga and beyond.
3) Paint it Black and Gold
Borussia Dortmund got back to winning ways, meanwhile, beating Freiburg 3-0 on Friday. It was a statement victory from Die Schwarzgelben, who had come out of the blocks flying in the New Year with three wins from three before grinding to a halt with a goalless draw at Heidenheim last weekend.
Jadon Sancho was only fit enough for the bench, but his presence - having returned to the club he made his name with on loan from Manchester United in the winter transfer window - seems to have lit a fire under Donyell Malen, who scored twice against Freiburg.
Watch: Highlights of Dortmund's 3-0 win over Freiburg
The Dutchman now has four goals in five games since the restart, while strike partner in crime Niclas Füllkrug is up to five in that time - as well as two assists - after adding the finishing touch against Freiburg… and on his 31st birthday no less.
"I knew nothing about it," The Germany No.9 said after Malen presented him with a birthday cake post-match. "It was really sweet [of him]. I was delighted when Donny gave it to me with a huge grin on his face." Sancho's return to form and fitness is a mouth-watering prospect in itself, but his attacking teammates aren't hanging about.
4) Undav keeps making his Euro '24 case
Füllkrug is likely to be Germany's first-choice striker when UEFA Euro 2024 gets underway on home soil next summer, but there is room in the squad for an understudy or two, and Deniz Undav is doing his chances of inclusion no harm at all, bagging his 14th goal of the season as VfB Stuttgart beat Mainz 3-1 on Sunday.
Maximilian Mittelstädt and Jamie Leweling were also on target at the MHPArena, and the three-point haul saw Stuttgart cement their grip on third place in the Bundesliga, but many of the headlines will now be reserved for Undav, who is on a personal crusade.
"I told him that it's my dream to play for the German national team, because I grew up here," Undav told bundesliga.com of a recent call with Julian Nagelsmann. "I don't really have anything to do with the Turkish national team. I told him that my focus will be on Germany 100 per cent, that it's my dream, that I'll do everything I can to play."
Undav is the top-scoring German in Europe this season, and he would have been five clear of Füllkrug if Chris Führich had squared for him to finish into an open goal in the first half. Nonetheless, no Stuttgart player has ever scored more in their first 18 Bundesliga games, and Germany could do worse than see if he can break some records for them.
5) Leipzig lose ground
Marco Rose named a full-strength side despite facing Real Madrid in the aforementioned competition's last 16 on Tuesday, and both halves of the blossoming Loïs Openda-Benjamin Šeško strike partnership were on target, but they were ultimately pegged back with Phillip Tietz and Ermedin Demirović scoring either side of their headers.
Watch: Highlights of Leipzig's 2-2 draw with Augsburg
One of the pre-season favourites to push Bayern all the way in 2023/24, Leipzig have now dropped 11 of a possible 15 points in the Rückrunde.
"We put in a top performance," said Augsburg head coach Jess Thorup. "After 1-0 we're suddenly 2-1 down, but my players always have the spirit to come back. The last 15 minutes were actually too wild for me, but my team really wanted the three points."
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