Bayer Leverkusen 1-3 Bayern Munich: Champions extend lead in first game of 2018

Bayern Munich resumed after the winter break with another victory over Bayer Leverkusen, who were beaten for the first in 13 matches, as the champions extended their lead at the top of the Bundesliga to 14 points.

Despite the hosts taking the game to them early on, Bayern took the lead through Javi Martínez half-an-hour in, with Franck Ribéry doubling the lead after the break.

Kevin Volland pulled one back for der Werkself as they threatened a comeback, however James Rodríguez’s sublime free-kick finished the game off in style.

Leverkusen set the tone but Martínez gives Bayern the lead

For the resumption of the Bundesliga season, Leverkusen went with a bold line-up, with a back three and Karim Bellarabi and Leon Bailey on the wings. Bayern came into the game 11 points clear at the top but were without four senior players – Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Thiago and Robert Lewnadowski – whilst Joshua Kimmich and new signing Sandro Wagner were only on the bench.

Leverkusen, unbeaten since losing to Herths BSC in September, were not afraid to take the game to Bayern. Even though their positive approach left gaps at the back they did well to contain their guests, whilst they threatened several times on the counter, with the pace of Bailey causing the visitors a few problems. They also got stuck in, although Volland and Bellarabi got booked for the troubles, the latter perhaps slightly lucky it was nothing more for his foul on Ribéry.

Dangerous as they were, Leverkusen didn’t give Sven Ulreich much to concern himself with in the Bayern goal. The closest they came was when Dominik Kohr floated a header wide from a corner, whilst a shot from Lars Bender was well off the mark. Bayern weren’t having much in front of goal either, with Bernd Leno dealing with a couple of Arturo Vidal efforts and Rodríguez shooting wide on the rebound after Leno parried a David Alaba cross.

In typical Bayern fashion, despite their indifferent opening half-an-hour, they would draw first blood. Arjen Robben’s corner found the head of Vidal, with his header directed into the path of Martínez at the far post by an attempted clearance by Sven Bender. The Spaniard responded, firing the ball in at the far post for his first Bundesliga goal of the season to give his side the lead.

Bayern were boosted by the goal and they had spotted an Achilles heal in Leverkusen’s defending of corners. Martínez, again, and Niklas Süle both connected with Rodríguez balls from the left side (as opposed to Robben from the right for the goal), although their headers both went wide. Leverkusen’s efforts had fizzled out and they will have been glad for the half-time whistle when it came.

Rodríguez settles affairs after Leverkusen threaten fightback

Bayern looked firmly in control in the early stages of the second half, having all the possession, yet Leverkusen twice came close to drawing level. First a Julian Brandt free-kick was deflected almost into the path of Sven Bender, and whilst the resulting corner came to nothing at first, Bailey brought the ball back into the box from the right. He dinked the ball towards goal, and struck the bar.

The hope that spell created was short lived though. Thomas Müller, filling in up front in Lewandowski’s absence, went wide on the turn, but Ribéry would not make the same mistake a couple of minutes later. Rodríguez found him with a sideways ball, and the Frenchman ran into the box, got the better of Jonathan Tah before striking through space to add the second.

Bayern sides might have been all but home and dry, but this one, as has often happened this season, took the foot off the gas and Leverkusen, who had two up front with the introduction of Lucas Alario, were able to regain a foothold. Volland had seen an earlier effort go wide, but after being found in the corner of the box by young Kai Havertz, he found space and saw his shot deflect in off both Martínez and, even more so, Süle.

The metaphorical wind was behind them, and they had Bayern more than worried. Bender headed a corner wide, before Havertz and Volland combined again, with a poor first touch from the latter meaning the best he could get from his shot was a corner. Alario then got in on the action, striking wide himself. The momentum wouldn’t last though.

Instead Bayern had the chance through Rodríguez to settle it with three minutes left, but he went wide after Alaba’s cross was headed on Müller. Just a few moments later though he was fouled on the edge of the box, stepping up to take the free-kick himself. The Colombian decided to chip it over the wall, and it was the right decision, as it left Leno with little chance of saving it.

He had had an excellent match individually and deserved to have the final say. For all of Leverkusen's efforts though, the game ended up with the same scoreline as the defeat at the Allianz Arena in August.