‘Hungry’ Bayern Turn Focus To Lazio After Leverkusen Humbling

Bayern have won the Bundesliga each of the past 11 years but now trail Leverkusen by five points, and Neuer said it is not just up to the senior players to turn the situation around.

Bayer Leverkusen’s Dutch defender #30 Jeremie Frimpong (3rdR) is celebrated by team mates after scoring the 3-0 goal during the German first division Bundesliga football match between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Bayern Munich in Leverkusen, western Germany on February 10, 2024. (Photo by Sascha Schuermann / AFP)


Bayern Munich captain Manuel Neuer insisted Tuesday there is no leadership problem at the club after a stinging defeat by Bayer Leverkusen put their long reign as German champions under threat.

Reeling from a 3-0 humiliation at the hands of Leverkusen, Bayern head to Lazio on Wednesday knowing only a deep run in the Champions League will salvage their season.

Bayern have won the Bundesliga each of the past 11 years but now trail Leverkusen by five points, and Neuer said it is not just up to the senior players to turn the situation around.

“We have a lot of leaders in our own ranks,” Germany goalkeeper Neuer said on the eve of Bayern’s first leg of their last-16 tie in Italy.

“Thomas Mueller wasn’t on the pitch, Joshua Kimmich came on as a substitute and was injured. It’s true that with a well-oiled team and a certain spine to it you can sort things out,” he said.

“But if one of the leaders is missing, like at Bayer, others have to take over.”

Thomas Tuchel finds himself increasingly under pressure at a club where coaches are judged primarily on the team’s Champions League showings, particularly in recent years when Bayern’s financial might made domestic dominance a formality.

Despite winning the double, Niko Kovac never recovered from a last 16 elimination at the hands of Liverpool in 2019.

Tuchel’s predecessor Julian Nagelsmann’s days were numbered after his Bayern were dumped out by Villarreal at the quarter-final stage in 2022.

A poor display against Lazio, who sit eighth in the Serie A table, could push Tuchel closer to an unthinkable exit, less than a year after joining the German champions.

– ‘Nothing has changed’ –

With 13 games remaining, Bayern could still bridge the gap — particularly given Leverkusen’s reputation for second-place finishes — but it was the manner of the defeat which was most troubling.

Bayern only had one shot on target compared to Leverkusen’s eight and no clear chances at goal.

“We need to take something from that bad game and turn it into something positive. Everyone is motivated and hungry to deliver a better performance,” said Neuer.

“Lazio might not be the biggest name on people’s lips but we’ve already struggled against weaker opponents… They deserve to be in the knockout stages and we’re not going to underestimate any team.”

Xabi Alonso’s side showed they are clearly the best in Germany, despite a budget dwarfed by that of the six-time European champions Bayern.

Despite Tuchel’s previous success, the highlight of which was winning the Champions League with Chelsea in 2021, he has failed to put his stamp on a Bayern side too often reliant on individuals.

Bayern CEO Jan-Christian Dreesen told reporters on Saturday that “nothing had changed regarding the question of the coach’s future”.

But the fact that Tuchel has failed to put his stamp on the club despite taking over just six months after Alonso’s appointment at Leverkusen will worry the Bayern hierarchy.

– No title for Kane? –

Already eliminated in the German Cup by third-division Saarbruecken, Bayern are looking down the barrel of a first trophyless season since 2012.

That this should happen after the silverware-starved Harry Kane arrived at the club has not passed unnoticed.

Bayern would however be in a far worse position without their 100-million-euro ($108 million) striker, who has scored 28 goals in 28 matches in all competitions this season.

Kane received little service on Saturday from a stodgy Bayern midfield. Veteran Thomas Mueller slammed his side’s performance, saying “Leverkusen were taking risks, looking for solutions and playing football.

“We’re playing from A to B, B to C, and nobody plays freely or takes risks.”

Tuchel said Mueller had earned the right to speak his mind.

“If someone is allowed to put out a statement like that it’s Thomas,” ventured Tuchel.

“I can’t imagine anyone underestimating this game, particularly after what happened on Saturday. It’s very important that we don’t just hammer ourselves with criticism as we need to play with confidence.”