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Sports

Bayer Leverkusen's loss a lesson for Bundesliga rivals

The thoughts of Sami Hyypia must have been on Ukraine and the Champions League as he drew up his Bayer Leverkusen lineup for Saturday’s match with Eintracht Braunschweig. Resting starters turned into a costly lesson.

The Leverkusen coach did not need to say he already had one eye on Tuesday's Champions League trip to Shakhtar Donetsk - it was clear in the starting line-up he put out against Braunschweig.

Among the substitutes were Stefan Kiessling, Sidney Sam and Heung-Min Son, who together have scored 14 of Leverkusen's 22 league goals this season. Even on their home pitch, Braunschweig were undoubtedly underdogs, prompting Hyypia to instead give starts to fringe men Robbie Kruse, Eren Derdiyok and Jens Hegeler.

Braunschweig - previously with just four points to their name - duly pulled off one of the upsets of the 2013-14 season by winning 1-0, with the arrival of Sam, Lars Bender and Kiessling from the bench unable to save the game for Leverkusen.

The frustrations rose for Hyypia as his face fell, and the comical way in which Domi Kumbela scored the only goal of the match, in the 81st minute, aptly summed up a dirty day for Leverkusen.

Hyypia's side slipped four points from league-leading Bayern Munich in the process, and Leverkusen may find it hard to make up even that seemingly insignificant amount of ground as the season progresses.

The Finn's quandary was a clear one. Leverkusen are second in Group A of the Champions League and could go some way to clinching a spot in the knockout stages with a win in Ukraine on Tuesday. It could well still prove a worthwhile gamble if Leverkusen come away from that match with a win, but the loss to Braunschweig provides a timely reminder for rival coaches nonetheless.

Finding the right balance

It proved once again that, in the Bundesliga, nothing can be taken for granted. Borussia Dortmund found out when it drew with struggling Nuremberg in September, Bayern Munich when they were held at SC Freiburg a month earlier.

In a long season that can be further complicated by successful cup runs and European competition, balancing the health of a squad is a tricky prospect and Leverkusen do not have the depth of Bayern or Dortmund.

Bayer Leverkusen coach Sami Hyypia. Photo: dpa

A win in Ukraine will go some way to validating Sam Hyypia's decision to rest key men against Braunschweig, but it looms as a risky gamble.

Of course, all is not lost. Hyypia's men will still find plenty of joy as they bid to both keep their title hopes intact and their Champions League adventure alive.

Still bottom of the table, meanwhile, Braunschweig might not have too many more reasons to celebrate this season and remain favorites for relegation. But on Saturday, the club was the dog that had its day, ruining Leverkusen's in the process.

The lesson of Leverkusen is one Bayern and Dortmund in particular need to heed as they attempt to manage packed schedules of their own. They will know all too well that titles have been won on the smallest of slip-ups.