Bayern Munich should be in for a major battle this weekend.
Bayer Leverkusen defeated Stuttgart 3-2 on Wednesday night in the quarterfinals of the DFB-Pokal. Leverkusen trailed twice but clawed its way to glory with goals from Robert Andrich, Amine Adli, and Jonathan Tah. Leverkusen pushed their unbeaten streak this season to 30 matches.
Leverkusen stands as the heavy favorite to win the German Cup, with only Fortuna Düsseldorf, Kaiserslautern, and tomorrow’s Monchengladbach/Saarbrücken winner as potential roadblocks.
While also sitting on top of the Bundesliga table, Leverkusen has a very realistic shot at winning the treble this season. Leverkusen is 6-to-1 odds to win the Europa League, although Liverpool is a distant favorite.
Set pieces are the great equalizer
Leverkusen dominated possession in the first half but Stuttgart opened the scoring on a corner kick in the 11th minute. Waldemart Anton slipped behind Edmond Tapsoba (Josip Stanišić wouldn’t have let that happen...) and calmly headed the cross back across the goal, leaving Leverkusen goalkeeper Matej Kovar helpless.
On the other side of the pitch, Stuttgart goalkeeper (and Bayern Munich loanee) Alexander Nübel laid out to make an incredible save on Alejandro Grimaldo’s free kick in the 42nd minute.
In the 90th minute, Leverkusen’s corner kick clearance was sent right back into the box by Florian Wirtz. Jonathan Tah stayed unmarked and powered in the game winner.
Leverkusen’s twilight magic
For the third time in their last five matches, Leverkusen scored the game winner in the dying minutes of the match. This sense of destiny can guide teams to Cinderella runs, but they can also come back to bite teams at the most inopportune moments.
In Saturday’s clash, Tuchel-ball might actually be the best strategy, especially when it comes to killing off the game if Leverkusen is trailing. Leverkusen might be content with a draw but they might also fall back on old habits and rely on a stoppage time shocker.
The winds of change have come
In August, Leipzig handily defeated Bayern 3-0 to claim the DFL-Supercup. In November, third division Saarbrücken shocked the soccer world with a stoppage time winner to eliminate Bayern from the DFB-Pokal. If Bayern is unable to overcome Leverkusen to claim the Bundesliga for a record 12th consecutive season, Thomas Tuchel will head into the last year of his contract with no domestic hardware in the trophy cabinet for the 2023/24 campaign.
Even if Bayern can successfully defend the league title, it is clear that the rest of the Bundesliga is catching up to the Rekordmeister.