Bayer Leverkusen trainer Xabi Alonso enjoyed a memorable first meeting with his former side as his Werkself side inflicted the Rekordmeister’s third league defeat of the season at the Bay Arena on Sunday. A tactical masterstroke from the Spaniard saw him outfox his Bayern counterpart with Robert Andrich the surprise key man.
Leverkusen were handed a real lesson by Bayern in the Hinrunde fixture, but in the reverse fixture on matchday 25 it was the Rhineland side that took the upper hand with rookie coach Alonso getting his tactics spot on against a Bayern side in a head-to-head battle with Borussia Dortmund for the Meisterschale.
Alonso’s masterstroke was to repeat the tactic he had first used against Freiburg on matchday 22 deploying midfielder Andrich in the middle of a back three alongside Edmond Tapsoba and Odilon Kossounou. This allowed fullbacks Piero Hincapie and Jeremie Frimpong license to push forward. If necessary Andrich could push into midfield safe in the knowledge that Hinacapie or Frimpong would drop deeper to cover.
“The idea behind it was that we were a bit more variable with the ball because a number six might have a different feeling for space. We did very well in the first half. Bayern needed some time to recover prepare for it” Andrich explained of his new role which he only found out about on the day of the big match.
Contrary to their usual habit, Bayern didn’t enjoy a majority of possession as Leverkusen took control of the first half (particularly the opening twenty minutes) and Bayern’s lead was certainly against the run of play.
“Bayern made the switch after 20 minutes, but we had the flexibility to react to that. Rob [Andrich] did well in the back three, but he also moved up into midfield as a number six, so Bayern were never able to gain a majority there,” Managing Director Sport Simon Rolfes explained after the win. “Especially in the first half we kept the balls in the centre with Palacios and Demirbay and played through the lines. That’s how we kept Bayern in the centre to create space on the wings to get. That was excellent from Xabi.”
A second masterstroke was the choice of Argentine World Cup winner Exequiel Palacios as the team’s new penalty taker. After six missed penalties in seven attempts before the penalty shoot-out in Monaco in the Europa League, Alonso decided Palacios was the man for the job and he paid back the confidence with two superbly taken spot kicks.
“We practiced a lot of penalties in training because of Europe,” Alonso said. “And Pala did it very well.” On Sunday, the 24-year-old, who had never taken a penalty in a competitive game in his entire career and was not even one of the five shooters in Monaco, had to hold his nerve twice after being 1-0 down. He did so twice and helped secure the victory.