Will Leverkusen be able to grab a Champions League berth in Germany?
Injuries to key players, suspensions and lack of form have seen three of the four title contenders in the Bundesliga drop points easily. Leverkusen has thus made up some ground on those sides.
Schalke lost to Bayern and Freiburg in succession while Leverkusen won two games in the same match-days, closing the gap between the two sides to a mere four points. Monchengladbach drew against Hamburg last week and lost 1-0 to Dieter Hecking’s Nuremberg this week.
This week, one of the surprising score-lines in the Bundesliga was: Leverkusen 2-0 Bayern. Leverkusen had not managed to get the better of Bayern since August 28th in 2004 when they managed to win 4-1. Recent record suggested Leverkusen was in for another horrendous afternoon as Bayern had beaten Bayer 04 by a combined score-line of 8-1 over the last two meetings.
Leverkusen did not beat Bayern simply due to luck or in this case, Manuel Neuer’s third costly error of the season. Neuer perhaps did not anticipate a busy afternoon prior to the match. He however produced some great saves until finally coming off of his line too early in the 79th minute to allow Stefan Kiessling to score.
Leverkusen did not simply sit back and absorb pressure despite the 1-0 lead. They looked to hit Bayern on the counter as the Bayern players poured forward in search of an equalizer that never came. Instead what came was a second Leverkusen strike in injury time via Karim Bellarabi.
Robin Dutt’s side is currently flying high. This season has been poor for ‘Die Werkself’ compared to the last two in which they were legitimately labeled ‘title contenders’. This season, except perhaps prior to the first kick-off, not even once has Dutt’s side been labeled a contender. If Leverkusen does finish fourth, their season will be salvaged.
The current good news for Jupp Heynckes’ former team is that important players who were previously out injured are returning to action. Renato Augusto recently returned and played a role in consigning Bayern to defeat.
What Leverkusen has always been said to lack by fans and media alike is confidence. The previous two seasons, a lack of confidence is what cost them the title. They led the Bundesliga at the half-way point in 2009-2010 but by March was sliding down the table. Last season, when Dortmund suffered blips in the second half, Leverkusen failed to take advantage as they lost to teams in the lower half of the table.
No team which is a title contender should lose 5-1 to a fellow title rival no matter how strong that contender is. This is exactly what happened to Leverkusen last season. Having beaten that very team which thrashed them so convincingly 2-0 this weekend should provide the confidence required to go ahead and grab that berth.
At the moment all signs point to a race for fourth place between Schalke and Leverkusen. Leverkusen in this kind of form might just edge that race and take that fourth spot.
So, what do you think? Will Leverkusen manage to take over fourth spot? Let me hear your thoughts.