A quick-fire double late on from substitute Leon Bailey and Lars Bender was enough as Bayer Leverkusen snatched all three points during their thrilling 4-3 win over Borussia Dortmund – who miss the chance to close the gap on leaders Bayern.
This was an eventful afternoon for Leverkusen captain Bender, who leapt above Mats Hummels to head home his first goal of 19-20 and couldn’t have asked for better timing.
Booked after the half-hour mark having committed his second poor challenge of the game, the versatile midfielder – deployed at right-back here – was walking a proverbial tightrope for 65 minutes. That’s far from ideal, especially when matched up against the combination of Raphael Guerreiro and Jadon Sancho down his side.
The task isn’t made easier when you are given the runaround in transition but manage to convince referee Marcus Schmidt to review the goal with a pitchside VAR monitor and overturn what was the correct decision, chalking off Sancho’s goal at a pivotal moment.
Despite their visitors creating chances aplenty throughout – many by Sancho himself – wastefulness was a recurring theme as Leverkusen absorbed pressure and hit them with well-worked counters late on. They too could have had more than four.
Volland breaks deadlock, BVB with immediate reaction
Against the run of play, Kevin Volland broke the deadlock after 20 minutes. He bypassed Manuel Akanji to latch onto Nadiem Amiri’s brilliant defence-splitting pass before firing low and hard beyond Roman Burki into the bottom corner. Dortmund were shocked.
After all, Sancho and fellow teenage hotshot Erling Braut Haaland had dovetailed well in the early exchanges and looked threatening in the final third: but with no end product.
Leverkusen goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky made an important diving save to bail out his defenders’ mishap in communication, thwarting Julian Brandt as he advanced through on-goal. 23-year-old Brandt left Leverkusen for Dortmund in a €25m move last summer so unsurprisingly, the home supporters haven’t forgiven him.
Pelted by red and black projectiles for leaving, Sancho told him to step aside before delivering a great cross into the box – one that an unmarked Hummels powered goalwards to equalise almost immediately. Game on again.
Emre Can makes his presence felt with sublime strike
Ten minutes later, Dortmund took the lead with a sublime finish out of nowhere. The commentators honed in on Emre Can and how he’d struggle to last the 90 minutes, such was the game’s relentless pace and intensity. After all, he’s only played 280-odd minutes at Juventus in 19-20 before agreeing his loan deal (obligation to buy) on January 31.
Well he went and did this to stun those same commentators into silence, then pure adoration for his beautiful strike:
Guerreiro’s cross was deflected by Tah back into open play and Can had the presence of mind to let fly from distance. This was the 25-year-old’s first Bundesliga goal since May 2014, where he scored for none other than Leverkusen vs. Eintracht Frankfurt.
Volland completes first-half brace
Dortmund were 2-1 up, but not for long. Volland completed his first-half brace after lax defending gifted the hosts a corner, one which was taken quickly and poorly dealt with. Jonathan Tah did well to control and flick the ball back centrally for Volland, who connected with a sweet volley and left Burki helpless.
Both sides made one half-time change: Brandt (injury) couldn’t continue but was surprisingly replaced by 17-year-old forward Giovanni Reyna, while Mitchell Weiser came on for Karim Bellarabi in a like-for-like substitution.
Sancho has brilliant finish dubiously chalked off
Sancho combined with Achraf Hakimi before the latter’s cutback was duly finished by the Englishman who fired across goal to help BVB retake the lead. Or so he thought.
Bender and a handful of Leverkusen players angrily surrounded referee Schmidt, convinced there was a foul in the build-up. Replays showed there was a coming together between Reyna and Bender, though the 30-year-old initiated the contact before a petulant reaction by the American.
After VAR review, the referee controversially cancelled out the goal and awarded a Leverkusen free-kick – much to Bender’s relief as he smiled, thanking the official.
That was a get out of jail free card if I’ve ever seen one, but you could sense a shift in momentum as Leverkusen grew in confidence and Dortmund needed to retake the lead all over again.
Goals continue flowing with frantic finish on the cards
Hradecky made another excellent save, this time tipping Reyna’s deflected shot onto the woodwork and out for a corner. Minutes later, Tah made a key interception to deny an oncoming Haaland in a dangerous area. Then, the game’s ruthlessness was typified.
Volland’s brilliant through ball fed the run of Kai Havertz, who remained composed but struck the post with Moussa Diaby wide open across to his left. He should have scored.
Then up the other end, combination play between Haaland, Sancho and Hakimi saw the latter tee up Guerreiro. He guided the ball into the far corner with a first-time finish, leaving Hradecky no chance as Lucien Favre’s men retook the lead once more.
Bosz brings on Bailey, the game-changer
20 minutes to play, there were still goals and more action left in this game. Peter Bosz took Diaby off, replacing him with fresh legs and direct impetus with Leon Bailey.
Within two minutes, the Jamaica international thought he’d equalised. Volland was offside and the linesman had left his flag down to see the move develop, though replays confirmed it was the correct decision.
Tensions flared as tackles and cynical fouls continued to pile up – Can the latest to suffer, but soldier on in midfield with a knock. You could see Dortmund dropping deeper, perhaps to protect their slender lead. Instead, they invited further pressure and were hit with a whirlwind they couldn’t recover from.
Can made an excellent recovery tackle to dispossess Volland as he shaped to shoot for his hat-trick, though his intervention proved futile as the ball fell perfectly for Bailey who curled an effort across goal and into the bottom corner.
3-3 turned into a 4-3 Leverkusen lead a minute later, as Bender met Daley Sinkgraven’s cross and headed towards the far corner as it cannoned in off the post.
Favre made a futile double substitution shortly afterwards – Thorgan Hazard and Mario Gotze on, Akanji and Can off. An unmarked Axel Witsel headed over the bar at the far post as a promising corner was drilled into the box, marking another BVB chance squandered. It wasn’t to be their day.
Not even the five minutes of stoppage-time was enough for Haaland to continue his deadly goalscoring form, as Leverkusen held on for a morale-boosting victory.
Dortmund would have gone joint-top with a win, but Bayern (42 points) remain top ahead of their crucial clash against RB Leipzig (2nd, 41 pts) tomorrow afternoon.
Their next game is at home against Frankfurt on Friday week, before hosting Ligue 1 champions PSG on February 18.
Borussia Monchengladbach will leapfrog Favre’s men into third with a win against Cologne in tomorrow’s other fixture.
Leverkusen travel to Union Berlin next Saturday, before they host Portuguese giants FC Porto in the first leg of their Europa League last-32 clash on February 20.
Leverkusen were energised by Dortmund’s defensive uncertainty during an end-to-end affair packed with individual brilliance and invention on display. However, questions must be asked of BVB. The manner in which they concede chances is worrying and with their Champions League last-16 clash vs. PSG on the horizon, it’s certainly a worry.
Favre’s man-management and substitutions speak for themselves. Why didn’t he bring on a more experienced player than Reyna? The 17-year-old was quiet barring a few flashes and if not for his petulance, Sancho’s goal would have stood. It could have been a completely different game.
Can told him – not the other way around – that he was staying on, his teammates sat deeper and they conceded two goals in two minutes. What does that tell you?
Bosz, who was fired by Dortmund himself in December 2017, won the battle of wits against his former side in his 50th Leverkusen match. In contrast, you saw a ruffled Favre in disbelief at just how they squandered all three points from a great position.
The victory clearly meant a lot to Leverkusen, who fought hard and had some fortune along the way but deserved it against a porous Dortmund backline. How many times have I said that line in my match reports covering their games in recent years?
They are wonderful to watch in attack but defensively leave their opponents with too much creative encouragement and often it comes back to haunt them.