In less than two weeks, Bayer Leverkusen have been bounced from the German Cup and seen Champions League hopes all but evaporate. After their Bundesliga loss to Wolfsburg, it's time to worry about the league, too.
When Bundesliga clubs find themselves in the midst of a rough patch, the German media is quick to pounce on any manner of 'Krise' (crisis) within a team. For example, Stuttgart, who lost their seventh in a row Saturday against Hertha Berlin, are making every headline in southwest Germany. Hamburg - despite abig win against Dortmund
on Mirko Slomka's first day on the job as new head coach - are also no stranger to crisis, with the club's first-ever relegation from the Bundesliga still a very real threat.
Leverkusen were soundly beaten 3-1 on Saturday by Wolfsburg, just four days after a4-0 loss to Paris Saint Germain
in the Champions League. Add that to the fact that Leverkusen have already been booted from the German Cup, it is safe to say the team has entered crisis territory.
It may sound odd to say a team that is currently second place in the Bundesliga can really be in that much trouble. But in just two weeks, Sami Hyypiä's side has gone from sitting pretty to sitting ducks.
Wheels coming loose
Two weeks ago, Leverkusen were facing a very winnable match against Kaiserslautern in the German Cup. Theylost 1-0 in extra time
, tumbling out of the competition.
One week ago, a home match against Paris Saint Germain in the Champions League was, admittedly, a tall task, but one that should not have ended in a 4-0 embarrassment. The loss last Tuesday effectively ended Leverkusen's Champions League hopes; they'll need to win the second leg in Paris by a five-goal margin to reverse the tide.
And just a few hours before Saturday's match against Wolfsburg, Leverkusen were presented with a spectacular opportunity to put some distance between themselves and Dortmund thanks to Hamburg's huge upset. But by the time the final whistle had blown, the chance had slipped through their fingers.
"Zero points," said Hyypiä after the match. "That hurts a little bit."
Barring a miracle in the Champions League or a Bayern implosion of improbable proportions in the Bundesliga, this season will end without any hardware for Leverkusen – but that's the least of their worries now. If they keep playing like they have in the second half of the season, they could drop out of the Champions League qualification for next year entirely.
Leverkusen have 43 points in the league table. Dortmund, currently in third place, are just a point behind, with Schalke - occupying fourth place and the Bundesliga's final Champions League qualification spot - another point behind them. Wolfsburg sit fifth, on 39 points. That means if Leverkusen were to lose their next game, and Dortmund, Schalke and Wolfsburg were to win, the Pharmaceuticals would drop to fourth and find themselves clinging to a Champions League spot by a single point.
A rough ten days
Leverkusen Sporting Director Rudi Völler sees a clear difference between the team that only lost four matches in the entire first half of the season and the team that has already lost three of five matches in the second half.
"Small or big mistakes that we make are immediately punished," Völler said in an interview after Saturday's game. "That wasn't the case in the first half, when we were taking advantage of the mistakes of our opponents."
It's a problem that needs to be addressed, but no one seems to know how.
"I don't think I've ever had a series of ten days like this," said Leverkusen striker Stefan Kiessling. "We're clueless as to why we play games like this … luckily we're not in a relegation fight. If we had a solution, we would have implemented it long ago."
Critical phase ahead of Bayern encounter
The luck may lie in the fact that Leverkusen can now focus all of their attention on one task - winning games in the Bundesliga. Their second-leg match against Paris Saint Germain is two weeks away, and their next league games until then are winnable: home against Mainz, and away to Hannover.
The week of the March 12 game in Paris will be a decisive one, however, as Leverkusen face Bayern Munich on the road in the Bundesliga a few days later. With PSG all but guaranteed progression, Hyypiä may be well-advised to adjust his roster accordingly and give key players fresh legs for the match against the Bavarians. Bayern host Arsenal the same week in the Champions League. Pep Guardiola's side won the first leg 2-0 in London, but the Spanish coach is unlikely to risk an Arsenal comeback when the league title is more or less already decided. Leverkusen may be in second place, but are currently 19 points adrift. Hardly worth making a fuss.
There is still time for a course correction at Bayer Leverkusen. Just because a mid-season crisis means the season will end without a trophy doesn't mean a full-on disaster has to wipe out their chances of a fresh start next season, too.