Munich - "Sluggish" was the word used by sporting director Rudi Völler to describe Bayer 04 Leverkusen's performance in the 2-0 defeat at FC Schalke 04 on Matchday 4.
It’s a word that few will have justifiably attributed to Leverkusen performances since Sami Hyypiä took charge of a team now synonymous with defensive solidity and breathtaking counterattacks. Nevertheless, the meek showing will be a concern for the UEFA Champions League participants, who appear on the verge of breaking into the Bundesliga's top two.
Bayer had gone into Saturday evening’s clash high on confidence. The group stages of the Champions League had just been drawn, pitting them against Manchester United FC, Real Sociedad de Futbol and FC Shakhtar Donetsk. Undoubtedly a challenging group, but after spending last season toiling in the UEFA Europa League, fans will be delighted at the return of Europe’s biggest and best to the BayArena.
On the pitch, they had been in good form too, having registered eight straight league wins - a club record - spread over the final stretch of 2012/13 and the new campaign. Schalke had by contrast, scraped into the Champions League group stages by the skin of their teeth, and this after taking just a single point from their opening three Bundesliga matches, conceding seven times in the process.
Bad day all round
A 2-0 home win for the Royal Blues may, therefore, have raised eyebrows in itself, but more surprising was Leverkusen's lacklustre display. Stefan Kießling was kept remarkably quiet by a deep-lying backline that simultaneously negated the counterattacking impact of Sidney Sam and Heung Min Son on the flanks. As a result, Leverkusen's front three, on fire in Matchday 3’s 4-2 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach, failed to produce individually and collectively.
Yellow cards shown to Stefan Reinartz, Ömer Toprak and Emir Spahic, the latter given for a foul on Jefferson Farfan, who duly converted the resulting penalty, were further evidence of Hyypiä’s men suffering from a bad day at the office.
It is somewhat puzzling, then, that die Werkself offered up so little resistance, especially considering that they have been the third best team in the league by quite a distance under Hyypiä's stewardship. In his 44 Bundesliga games in charge, albeit with Sascha Lewandowski by his side during the 2012/13 campaign, Bayer 04 have accumulated 88 points at an average of two points per game.
In that time, though, only Bayern (114 at 2.59 points per game) and Dortmund (96 at 2.18) boast a more impressive numerical record. Moreover, Schalke have taken just 1.5 points per game in that time, and also finished ten points behind Bayer last season. The logical objective for Leverkusen this season would now be to upset the dominance of the top two, a feat they last managed in 2010/11 under legendary Bundesliga coach Jupp Heynckes. However, having finished just one point behind second-placed Dortmund last year, defeats, as well as performances, such as those at the weekend must become a rarity if they are to hit that lofty target.