Munich - When a side have won eight games in a row and not lost at home to a specific opponent in over 23 years, you'd be forgiven for thinking there could only be one possible outcome. Not in the Bundesliga, however, as Bayer 04 Leverkusen proved with a surprise 2-1 win at FC Bayern Munich on Sunday.
Greuther Fürth, VfB Stuttgart, 1. FSV Mainz 05, FC Schalke 04, VfL Wolfsburg, SV Werder Bremen, 1899 Hoffenheim, Fortuna Düsseldorf... the list seemed like it would go on and on as Bayern pitched their victorious flag all over Germany.
Leverkusen had not won in the Bavarian capital since October 1989 and they had only drawn their last two games against sides Bayern had swept aside with consummate ease, but this is the beauty of the Bundesliga. When you least expect it, a surprise leaps out like it did at the Allianz Arena on Sunday. When things seem to be following a well-planned script, somebody fluffs their lines.
"To win in Munich is always something special," said Leverkusen's Andre Schürrle. “It’s incredibly hard to win here because Bayern are even more dominant on home soil and you could see that again today, but we resisted for 90 minutes and take this win gladly." Schürrle could also see what the win meant to those at the club who, unlike him, were around the last time Leverkusen won in the Bavarian capital. "I wasn't even born then!" laughed the Germany international. "It’s an eternity ago and you could see that on the faces of the people who’ve been at this club for a long time; it was something very special for them."
Dancing the night away
Getting a special result meant deploying special tactics and - perhaps - using Chelsea as an inspiration. The Blues’ UEFA Champions League final win over the Bavarians in May showed how Bayern can be beaten inside their own four walls, and Leverkusen resorted to similarly destructive, but equally effective tactics to force Bayern’s downfall. "I don’t think there is any other way against Bayern in the form they're currently in," said Schürrle, keen to point out that it was the exception rather than the rule. "They had so many chances, particularly from crosses, and they would probably have deserved to win in the end, but football’s like that sometimes."
As Bayern’s dejected players fled into the sanctuary of their own dressing room, at odds to explain their first defeat in the Bundesliga this term, they surely would have heard the visitors' celebrations next door. "We cranked up the music - a bit of House, a bit of Hip-Hop, and we danced," revealed Schürrle, who is no stranger to dancing around the Allianz Arena changing rooms. He and the Bruchweg Boys of Mainz picked up an equally impressive 2-1 victory over Bayern in 2010. He set up a goal in that game, just like he set up Stefan Kießling for the opener on Sunday. Pretty soon, the door staff will be refusing him entry.
That result was equally unexpected, but David often beats Goliath in the Bundesliga. The league is so closely contested, it makes for an unpredictability factor which has the crowds flocking to the games. Leverkusen’s win on Sunday means they too are back in the hunt for a place in Europe, as are Mainz, and 10 other clubs for that matter. Bayern’s march towards the title, on the other hand, has now met its first serious obstacle, not that their coach Jupp Heynckes is expressing too much concern. "This defeat won't knock us down," he said. "We'll learn our lessons from it. We still have a comfortable cushion in the league table."
Bundesliga aficionados will point out that Heynckes had a similar feeling this time last year when his side led Borussia Dortmund by nine points, only to be comfortably beaten to the title by the Westphalians. The defending champions’ 2-0 win at SC Freiburg on Saturday has brought them back to within nine points of the record champions once again, and the two sides meet at the Allianz Arena just a month from now. With Schalke also on the scene, anyone thinking the Bundesliga title race was in any way predictable should probably think again.