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Kovac: “We shouldn’t have lost this game”

Head coach Niko Kovac was frustrated by the way that Bayern Munich lost to Bayer Leverkusen on defensive lapses and close officiating calls.

LEVERKUSEN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 2: coach Niko Kovac of Bayern Munchen during the German Bundesliga match between Bayer Leverkusen v Bayern Munchen at the BayArena on February 2, 2019 in Leverkusen Germany. Photo by Peter Lous/Soccrates/Getty Images

It was a familiar refrain after Bayern Munich’s disappointing 3-1 away loss to Bayer Leverkusen: despite a clear game plan and a first-half lead, defensive blunders and a lack of discipline cost Bayern the lead and the game. Head coach Niko Kovac was appreciably frustrated in his post-game remarks.

On, Kovac summarized,

The result doesn’t tell you what happened on the pitch. It was an intense game. In the first half, we played well, and Leverkusen was MIA. We should have put it away then. We shouldn’t have lost this game. It should have ended in a draw. Leverkusen shoots on target four times and scores three goals. We wanted to stay compact, but there was a mistake or two on the goals conceded.

Kovac had drilled “compact defense” into the team all week. According to Bild, he specifically had the team practice compact defense in two closed training sessions on Wednesday and Thursday. But to no avail. As soon as Leverkusen took an unanticipated lead — off of Leon Bailey’s free kick (0.05 xG according to Understat!) — Kovac’s defensive plan was forgotten, and Bayern again shipped goals as earlier in the season. Kovac said,

Compactness is the topic that I’ll discuss on Sunday. You can’t concede three goals here and think you can win in Leverkusen. We’ve got to close it down in the back, because championships are decided at the back.

The first goal conceded, Bailey’s free kick, is why Kovac argued above that the game should have ended in a 1-1 draw. Bayern’s back line was helpless to prevent that goal. Second goalkeeper Sven Ulreich said after the game, “That was a very, very well-taken free kick. Bailey often shoots over the wall; we analysed that and saw it often during the week.”

But that was not the whole story. Bailey told Bild: “I tricked Sven there. I once scored against him in the other corner. But this time I deliberately picked the other corner.”

The memory of Bailey’s last goal must have been fresh in Ulreich’s mind. If you watch the goal again, you’ll see Sven take a small step to the right (his left) just before Bailey shoots. But Bailey shot into the top left corner, and Sven could not reach it after stepping first in the opposite direction.

VAR, huh, good god. What is it good for?

Bailey’s goal willy-nilly, Kovac felt that the officiating beforehand was the key moment in the game. Kovac said, “The decisive scene in my opinion was the offside decision against us” (Kicker). After a brilliant combination with Kingsley Coman, Lewandowski appeared to have scored a world-class goal — but after a late offside flag was raised, VAR ruled him offside. Kovac compared it to dropping a plummet to draw a straight line.

How drop the plummet? I’d have to have a drone overhead, to drop a plumb line down. Dropping the plummet from the side, that’s hard.

Lewandowski’s feet appeared to be behind the line, but VAR presumably ruled that his knee was offside by the slightest of margins. Kovac said, “If the goal counts, the score is 2-0. Then nothing else at all happens.” In contrast, VAR ruled Julian Brandt onside when he received a pass from Bellarabi before assisting Alario’s goal. After watching the videos, Kovac said (AZ),

Here know they drop the plummet on his shoulder. I think that’s quite harsh. If the third goal hadn’t counted, we’d still have a chance.

Kovac concluded, “Today the referees’ decisions went against us, although I do not want to suggest that they made any mistakes.”

Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge essentially concurred, Rummenigge:

In my view, the video assistant referee judged everything correctly. Including the two offside questions. It’s two or three centimeters — then it’s just bad luck for us. I remain a good friend of VAR.

The only consolation is that Borussia Dortmund also failed to capitalize fully on Bayern’s poor performance, drawing against Eintracht Frankfurt 1-1. Dortmund’s lead in the Bundesliga thus grew only from 6 to 7 points. Kovac said, “We have to use the remaining 14 games to catch up. The odds are minimally worse. We never give up.”

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