Hearts pumping, legs throbbing, concentration waining, Bayern Munich past Bayer 04 Leverkusen with a 5-3 penalty victory in BayArena on Wednesday. The victory advances them in to the DFB-Pokal semifinals for the sixth season in a row.
Manuel Neuer came up with the necessary save right off the bat, directing Josip Drmić's attempt to the left of the goalpost. Bayern were clinical on all five of their attempts after that, Thiago Alcântara netting the final ball to allow Bayern to escape out of the quarterfinal
The match was tighter than a Pep Guardiola haircut for all 120 minutes of action. Leverkusen pressured Bayern relentlessly when the reigning Pokal champions in possession, and Bayern's defense tracked down Leverkusen's counterattacks. By the end, the players were at each others throats, referee Felix Zwayer needing to pull out his yellow card four times in the extra period alone.
Leverkusen backed Bayern into their defensive half right off the bat, the Rekordmeister using Dante, Jérôme Boateng, and Mehdi Benatia to help keep possession and launch the ball forward in attack. Benatia eventually had to depart with a knock, Guardiola bringing on Sebastian Rode to increase Bayern's presence in midfield.
Leverkusen nearly found the net three times in the second half, Karim Bellarabi testing every Ballon d'Or qualification Neuer has. The Germany No. 1 was up to the test, sticking three diving saves to his gloves in the second half to keep goals off the scoreboard. One cross from Bellarabi nearly beat Neuer though, but luckily Rafinha's toe got enough of the ball to force it past the slide of Julian Brandt.
Robert Lewandowski nearly found the opener in the second half as well, but he bombarded his way too ferociously into his marker Ömer Toprak and Zwayer called the goal off. Mario Götze had an opportunity in extra time as well, volleying a cross from Rafinha to the wrong side of the post.
Both clubs were able to survive each others blows until penalties, were Bayern's true class shone through. Bayern have now won every extra time Pokal match since the turn of the millennium, and have prevailed in five out of six penalty shootouts in all competition since 2000.
Bayer Leverkusen 0-0 (3-5 PEN) Bayern Munich | BayArena
Leverkusen XI: Leno – Hilbert, Toprak, Spahić (Papadopoulos 90+1'), Wendell – Rolfes (Çalhanoglu 99'), Bender – Bellarabi, Castro, Brandt – Kießling (Drmić 90+4')
Bayern XI: Neuer – Benatia (Rode 34'), Boateng (Badstuber 117'), Dante – Rafinha, Lahm (Thiago 68'), Alonso, Bernat – Müller, Götze – Lewandowski
- The biggest storyline going into the match was the back three that injuries have forced Guardiola to rely on. This time, however, Bayern were able to get some width in their play, Xabi Alonso dropping between the two center backs to to help build the play from the back. That plan was scrapped of course with Benatia's injury, Guardiola adding another midfielder in Rode to return to a traditional back four. The ball moved a tad more freely with Rode's arrival, another body Leverkusen had to take into account in midfield. The three-back system certainly appears more as a temporary solution, but it is a solution that has gotten two results.
- When the match was on the line in the second half of extra time, Guardiola really had no other choice than to send the match into penalty shootouts. Thiago and Rode had already come on, and unless he was going to put on Pizarro for his first appearance in months to find the winner, his only option was to bring on Badstuber to see the match out.
- Leverkusen's pressing made it incredibly difficult for Bayern to build up the play, but the interplay in the final third was perhaps more underwhelming. Granted, there were spells in the match were Leverkusen sat back and compacted the space. Bayern are clearly missing a playmaker though, even though Götze's presence allowed for more attacking possession. That is a void Thiago certainly could fill, and his progression to full fitness will be fascinating to watch.
- The goalkeeping position has not seen the analytic love many other positions have, which makes Manuel Neuer's impact even more unquantifiable. Faced with three menacing scoring chances from Leverkusen in the second half (one in stoppage time), he snuffed them out quicker than a snuffer on a candle wick. He continues to amaze, impacting the defense unlike any keeper in the world. Oh, and that penalty save was not shabby either.