The game produced the expected fireworks, and at the end, Bayern Munich and Leverkusen couldn’t be separated in what was a more than deserved 2-2 draw in Friday’s Bundesliga Topspiel. Twice Leverkusen had to come from behind.
Harry Kane scored first for Bayern (7’) with Alejandro Grimaldo equalizing with a beautiful freekick (24’). Then, in the second half, the game ebbed and flowed back and forth with Bayern drawing first blood when Goretzka scored first (86’) and Exequiel Palacios equalizing from the spot (94’) after a foul committed by Alphonso Davies.
“We had a good first 20 minutes and could have decided the game back then,” Bayern Munich boss Thomas Tuchel said after the game to broadcaster DAZN. “But then we had 20 bad minutes, completely for no reason. Things continued like that in the second half. Sometimes we had control, sometimes no control. In the end it looked like we had the lucky punch with the second goal, but then we got a tricky decision against us.”
Tuchel’s analysis was bang on. The game has to be broken down into different periods in which one team dominated the other. Bayern certainly bossed the first 20 minutes and it very much appeared that they would walk away with a clear win. But then Leverkusen’s Grimaldo equalized from a stunning freekick situation that might very well be voted the Bundesliga goal of the season.
That goal announced Leverkusen on the scene for another ten minutes or so in which it felt like Die Werkself would take the lead. But then just before halftime it turned again with Bayern creating several chances and it was only thanks to a brilliant Lukas Hradecky that the score stayed even going into halftime.
Although it was close, Bayern did lead the halftime stats with 1.45 to 0.45 xG. The second half also at first belonged to Bayern, but once again, Leverkusen worked itself into the game and Nigerian striker Victor Boniface, on his own, had three clear-cut chances to give his team the lead. Instead, it was Bayern who scored next when Mathys Tel delivered a perfect cross to Goretzka to give Bayern the lead and what felt like the winner at the time.
But then, with just moments to go, Davies brought down Jonas Hofmann inside the box. Referee Daniel Schlager missed the situation entirely, but after studying the replay at the monitor pointed to the spot. Palacios then made no mistake to convert from the spot.
Although the television pictures painted a clear picture, the penalty decision was the big talking point after the game. “For me that clearly was a penalty,” Hofmann said to DAZN after the game. Of course, I put my body and foot in front of him, and at that moment, he hit me below. There’s no doubt at all that it was a penalty.”
Thomas Müller, not surprisingly, disagreed. “That was a very, very soft penalty,” Müller said. In England, that wouldn’t have been whistled. Come on we’re playing football!” Tuchel agreed with his forward after the game. “The referee didn’t blow his whistle,” Tuchel said. “For me it is not a crystal-clear wrong decision where VAR had to intervene. But it doesn’t matter what I say now.”
The penalty decision will certainly be debated for days to come. What cannot be debated is the fact that Bundesliga fans were treated to a true top game in which Leverkusen may have announced itself as a true title contender under head coach Xabi Alonso.
In the first 5 minutes, it was like we were still in the hotel,” Alonso said about his team after the game. “But after 15 minutes, I saw my team. The draw is ok for us. Bayern could have won, but so could have we. We are in a process and so far, we are happy,” Alonso added in his own subtle way.
The message by the Spaniard is clear. Despite a very mature performance, the Leverkusen boss wants to still see more from his team. Indeed, Boniface and super talent Florian Wirtz could have shown perhaps a bit more in the Spitzenspiel and that might have made the difference for Leverkusen to win this game.
At the same time, Leverkusen showed up at the Allianz Arena, was initially outplayed, and threatened to be drowned by expectations only to battle its way back into the game. That, in fact, is a difficult thing to achieve. Very few teams have recovered from early adversity in Munich, Leverkusen has mastered that test with flying colors and then some.
With that in mind, Leverkusen has now scored 13 goals and conceded just five in the first four games of the season. Also, no matter what else happens this match day, Alonso’s team will remain first and there is now quite a few that might think that this Leverkusen side could still be there on matchday 34.
Manuel Veth is the host of the Bundesliga Gegenpressing Podcast and the Area Manager USA at Transfermarkt. He has also been published in the Guardian, Newsweek, Howler, Pro Soccer USA, and several other outlets. Follow him on Twitter: @ManuelVeth and on Threads: @manuveth