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‘No hiding’ for Bayern as Leverkusen threaten to pull away

By AFP - Feb 18,2024 - Last updated at Feb 18,2024

Lazio’s Italian goalkeeper #94 Ivan Provedel makes a save during the UEFA Champions League last 16 first leg between Lazio and Bayern Munich at the Olympic stadium on February Wednesday in Rome (AFP photo)

BERLIN — Bayern Munich could be as many as eight points behind league leaders Bayer Leverkusen when they travel to Bochum on Sunday after one of the club’s worst weeks in recent memory.

Bayern were outclassed in Saturday’s 3-0 loss in Leverkusen, before losing 1-0 to Lazio on Wednesday — their first defeat in an opening leg in the Champions League last 16 since 2012.

Speaking afterwards in Rome on Wednesday, England captain Harry Kane said, “We’re in a difficult spell, there’s no hiding that.”

A “frustrated and angry” Bayern coach Thomas Tuchel said he was “at a loss” to explain the “huge drop in performance” in the second-half.

For Bayern fans, the statistics make for sorry reading. Famed for reacting when stung by a poor result, Bayern lost twice in a row for the first time since January 2021.

The German champions were last held scoreless twice in succession in 2015. Against Lazio, Bayern failed to register a shot on goal for the first time since 2019’s 0-0 home Champions League draw with Liverpool.

Bayern have thrashed Bochum 7-0 in three of their past five meetings, but their bid to avoid three straight losses for the first time since 2015 is not as simple as it appears.

Despite sitting in 14th, Bochum have been hard to beat, losing just once at home this season.

Bochum have lost seven times all season, a better record than every team outside the top six, while they have a league-high 10 draws.

With Bayern eliminated from the German Cup by third-tier Saarbruecken, the perennial German champions are staring down a trophyless season for the first time since 2012.

Yet, to win a team trophy despite a glittering career, Kane called on his side to put the “really tough week” behind them and “focus on the next challenge”.

“[There are] big things to fight for still. We’re not out of it. We will never give up.

“One game or one spark can change a lot in football and we need to try and find that...

“We’ll push each other in training and on the weekend and try and find it.”

Leverkusen play away at promoted Heidenheim on Saturday — another task less straightforward than it may seem.

Sitting ninth, Heidenheim have had a strong top-flight debut campaign, thanks largely to an excellent home record.

Heidenheim have claimed 18 of their 27 points at the 15,000-capacity Voith Arena, losing just twice all year.

Leverkusen dropping points in Heidenheim could give Bayern a sniff of a chance, which is usually all the 33-time German champions need.

One to watch: Sebastien Haller (Borussia Dortmund

Borussia Dortmund striker Sebastien Haller returned to Germany on Thursday having won the Africa Cup of Nations with Ivory Coast.

Few footballers have endured a more difficult time than Haller over the past 18 months.

Arriving on a big-money deal from Ajax in the summer of 2022, Haller was diagnosed with testicular cancer and spent six months on the sidelines as he battled the illness.

He returned and played a key role as Dortmund pushed for the title, but missed a penalty in their final-day draw with Mainz, which meant Bayern were champions again.

Haller scored the winners in the semifinal and final as hosts Ivory Coast won the tournament for the third time.

“We know how long his path back to the top was” Dortmund coach Edin Terzic said Thursday, calling Haller a “celebrated hero”.

“Although things didn’t go well, he stayed positive and was rewarded.

“We’re really happy that he’s back and we hope he’ll bring the momentum from the tournament with him.”

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