Leverkusen - offered yet further proof of his fighting spirit against FC Bayern Munich, winning 65 per cent of his tackles as he made his 100th appearance in Germany's top flight. However, it wasn't enough for Bayer 04 Leverkusen on the day, as they fell victim to the Bundesliga's runaway leaders in a hard-fought encounter.
Despite suffering an unlucky 2-1 defeat though, there were plenty of positives for third-placed Leverkusen to focus on, which the 23-year-old holding midfielder, who will miss Germany's upcoming double-header against Kazakhstan due to a heel injury, was keen to highlight when he talked exclusively to bundesliga.com.
bundesliga.com: Lars Bender, how disappointed are you about the defeat to Bayern Munich?
Lars Bender: Losing any match annoys me, but it's obviously even more frustrating to lose with an unlucky free-kick after coming back against a team like Bayern. We had the necessary luck when we played away to Munich in the first half of the season [when Leverkusen won 2-1], but today it was the opposite. These things even themselves out in football though.
bundesliga.com: Do you feel there was more in it against a much-changed Bayern starting eleven?
Bender: Bayern have great quality, even if they rotate their side. We played really well from a tactical perspective, but we lacked a bit of attacking spirit and conviction going forward in the first half. We were better after the break, though, and there would have been much more in it if we'd started like that.
bundesliga.com: Was the team a little too respectful or fearful in its approach?
Bender: We just weren't confident enough when we had the ball in the final third. Also, we made it easy for them allowing them to hit us on the counter after our set-pieces. We were well organised and solid at the back whenever we stuck to our system. We weren't quite bold enough in attack, but that had nothing to do with us being scared.
bundesliga.com: Does the fact that Bayer levelled from a set-piece prove that Bayern had little to fear from open play?
Bender: We don't care at all about how we score. A 1-1 draw would have gained us a point against Bayern, which not many teams have managed this season. But it didn't work out for us and we have to take the defeat.
bundesliga.com: What positives can you take from the game and is there anything to be drawn upon for your fight for third place in the table?
Bender: Third place is our main target and we're still in a good position. We showed again today how much life there is in our team; it's not easy staging a comeback against Bayern. Other teams might have crumbled after going a goal behind, but not us. We fought back and showed the passion that we needed to. We take that as big positive, but it's about time we start collecting points again.
bundesliga.com: How difficult will that be against your next opponents Fortuna Düsseldorf?
Bender: Düsseldorf [in the away defeat on Matchday 25] showed against Bayern that they're an awkward side to play against. They'll stretch us to the limit, but we'll win the game if we give 100 per cent and reach our full potential.
bundesliga.com: On a different matter, how do you feel about Stefan Kießling again being omitted from the Germany squad for the matches against Kazakhstan?
Bender: "Kies" is a great guy and has scored so many goals, but it's for the national coach and his staff to decide. They didn't call him up this time, so you just have to accept it.
Interview: Markus Hoffmann