Bayern focused on hunting down Leverkusen

AFP , Thursday 29 Feb 2024

Eight points behind leaders Leverkusen, Bayern Munich have cast themselves in the unfamiliar role of "hunters" with one third of the season remaining.

Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich s English forward #09 Harry Kane (C) and his teammates celebrate after the German first division Bundesliga football match between FC Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig in Munich, southern Germany on February 24, 2024. AFP

Bayern have 11 matches to close the gap on Xabi Alonso's unbeaten side who are pushing for a first-ever Bundesliga crown.

New Bayern sporting director Max Eberl told reporters his side, who have won the past 11 Bundesliga titles were "now playing the role of the hunter".

Bayern play away at Freiburg on Friday, the same day Eberl officially starts work.

Since Leverkusen's dominant 3-0 home win over Bayern earlier in February, Alonso's side have played before Thomas Tuchel's side each weekend, throwing down the gauntlet to the under-pressure Bavarians.

With Leverkusen however now in action mostly on Sundays due to midweek Europa League commitments, Bayern can up the pressure on Alonso's men by playing first most weekends.

After three straight losses equalled their worst run since 2015, Bayern beat RB Leipzig last week, albeit needing a stoppage-time strike from Harry Kane.

Tuchel said Thursday the "last-minute win gave us self-confidence and a positive atmosphere, which is what you need to play good and successful football.

"We stopped the negative series. It gave us energy and I think we did well."

With Bayern on the verge of a last 16 exit in the Champions League, Tuchel had one eye fixed on Tuesday's home clash with Lazio, with the Italian side holding a 1-0 advantage.

The Bayern coach said the Lazio clash was "a completely different game" but told reporters "the best preparation for the coming match is always a successful match before."

Colourful Freiburg coach Christian Streich said Thursday "Bayern will want to win at all costs -- we'll do everything we can to make it difficult for them."

An eight-point lead at this point of the season has never been chased down in the history of the Bundesliga.

Bayern however will be hoping that their winning history, along with five-time runners-up Leverkusen's reputation for finishing second will give them an advantage in the final stretch.

Before that match, Tuchel had said "we are the last ones who will stop believing."

Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke knows only too well what Bayern's relentless pressure can do to a club.

Tuchel's Bayern won the title on the final day of last season after Dortmund drew 2-2 at home against a Mainz side with nothing to play for.

"It's not over" Watzke told AFP and other journalists on Tuesday.

"Don't be sure that Bayern Munich is dead. Bayern is dead after the last match of the season and never before."

One to watch: Nathan Tella (Bayer Leverkusen)

Bayer Leverkusen have had several players hit career-best form this season under Xabi Alonso -- but few have risen as far as forward Nathan Tella.

An Arsenal junior who spent most of his time in the lower divisions, the 24-year-old arrived in summer from Southampton, having impressed in a loan spell at Burnley.

The lightning-quick Tella has only improved since arriving in Germany -- an achievement recognised by a Nigeria call-up.

He played a crucial role up front in Leverkusen's 3-0 defeat of Bayern Munich which put the unbeaten side on course for a debut Bundesliga title.

Speaking with the Bundesliga website on Thursday, Tella credits Alonso for keeping the side focused.

"He doesn't get too carried away. He doesn't think too far in the future, only the next game and how to improve.

"If we won a game 3-0, he will look at why we didn't win 4-0.

"We strive to be the best as a team -- he brings that out of us."

Key stats

61- Bayer Leverkusen have 61 points with one third of the season remaining. Last year, Bayern Munich won the title with 71.

5 - Only five points separate Hoffenheim in seventh and Bochum in 15th in the Bundesliga's mid-table traffic jam.

13 - Freiburg's Vincenzo Grifo has converted his past 13 penalties in a row in the Bundesliga.

Fixtures (1430 GMT unless stated)

Friday

Freiburg v Bayer Leverkusen (1930)

Saturday

Mainz v Borussia Moenchengladbach, Heidenheim v Eintracht Frankfurt, Union Berlin v Borussia Dortmund, Darmstadt v Augsburg, Bochum v RB Leipzig, Wolfsburg v Stuttgart (1730)

Sunday

Cologne v Bayer Leverkusen, Hoffenheim v Werder Bremen (1630)

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

 
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