Domi Kumbela’s fumbling back-post finish in the 81st minute knocked Leverkusen off their hitherto impressively powerful stride. They had been effortlessly keeping pace with Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern München at the top of the Bundesliga, stringing together win after win both home and away. Powered by the goals of Sidney Sam and Stefan Kießling, Sami Hyypiä’s men were dreaming of domestic glory.
At the weekend, however, the Finn made his first real miscalculation of an otherwise near-flawless debut sole coaching campaign. With a crucial UEFA Champions League tie in Donetsk on Tuesday, Hyypiä rested his tried and tested front three of Sam, Kießling and Heung Min Son. The triumvirate have scored 15 of the Werkself’s 22 goals so far, while their replacements against Braunschweig - Eren Derdiyok, Robbie Kruse and Jens Hegeler - mustered a mere seven attempts on goal between them.
The defeat has left Leverkusen three points behind Dortmund and four behind Bayern in third place, but more worryingly, their nine-point cushion over Borussia Mönchengladbach has been reduced to six. Indeed, one of Dortmund and Bayern’s assets, after years of balancing domestic and continental duties, is the strength of their respective squads. That is something which, on Saturday’s showing, Leverkusen will struggle to compete with over the course of 34 games.
The chasing pack
That disadvantage in comparison to the top two could turn the Werkself’s season into a case of fending off the chasing pack, rather than focusing their eyes on the prize of a first Bundesliga title. Gladbach’s away win over Hamburger SV propelled them into fourth place, with VfL Wolfsburg and FC Schalke 04 also on the hunt after their wins on the road on Matchday 11.
Sixth-place Schalke’s strengths are indisputable: they already have two wins from three at Europe’s top table. Wolfsburg’s resurgence since their own loss to Braunschweig, with three consecutive wins, has been quietly notable and Gladbach’s attacking quartet, spearheaded by the indefatigable Max Kruse, rivals any in the Bundesliga.
No moping around
For Leverkusen, not only did the Braunschweig defeat highlight their weakness in depth, and allow the chasing pack to make ground, it also further eroded their squad. Lars Bender’s first-ever Bundesliga dismissal rules him out of Matchday 12’s clash with Hamburg. His composure in the heart of midfield will be sorely missed against an improving side looking to bounce back from the Gladbach defeat.
Fortunately for Hyypiä, Bender will be available for Tuesday’s crunch Champions League Group A clash with FC Shakhtar Donetsk. Memories of the 4-0 victory in the BayArena on Matchday 3 have perhaps been replaced by the disappointment of Saturday's surprise loss, but in a game which could decide second place, now is not the time for hangovers.
Check out the best strikes from an action-packed Matchday 11 courtesy of the official Bundesliga YouTube channel: