Bumbling Bayern Seek Cup Redemption Against Listless Leverkusen | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 04.03.2009
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Bumbling Bayern Seek Cup Redemption Against Listless Leverkusen

Little has gone right in 2009 for the reigning champs, who have won only one of their last five league matches. Their Cup clash against Leverkusen is a chance to turn things around -- but can they do it?

Cologne's Daniel Brosinski scores against Munich

Bayern have watched underdogs pull off upsets against them

You'd have gotten a good return on your bet if last August you said after 22 rounds of the Bundesliga, Bayern would be trailing Hertha, Hamburg, Hoffenheim and Wolfsburg in the standings.

But fifth place is exactly where the league's traditional powerhouse is at the moment, and the squad is threatening to fall to pieces under new coach Juergen Klinsmann.

In one sense, Bayern's quarterfinal German Cup match against Bayer Leverkusen comes at an opportune moment. A convincing victory away to Leverkusen would likely restore some swagger to the defending champions as they attempt to revive their bid for more silverware.

Yet to get a valuable win against Leverkusen, Bayern are going to have to correct the shortcomings that have made them unusually vulnerable -- a one-dimensional attack and a lack of team harmony.

Contain Ribery, beat Bayern

Munich's coach Juergen Klinsmann, right, and manager Uli Hoeness

Klinsi was typically positive, and Hoeness glum, during the Bremen match

Bayern's losses to Hertha and Cologne, as well as their goalless draw against 10-man Bremen last weekend, have illustrated how Munich can be beaten.

Bayern's offensive threat comes mainly down the left-hand side from defender Philipp Lahm and playmaker Frank Ribery. By forcing Lahm to concentrate on defense and by double and triple-teaming the nimble Frenchman, opponents have been able to check Munich's forward momentum in midfield.

Thus far, coach Klinsmann have not found a strategy to get right-side players like Bastian Schweinsteiger or Mark van Bommel productively involved. As a result, Bayern dominate possession -- they still lead the league in that category -- without generating pressure on their foes' goal.

And that's frustrated their best player.

Franck Ribery

Teams have focused on stopping Ribery to stop Bayern

"I've complained to the coach that I hardly get any support," Ribery told the press after the disappointing Bremen result. "And he agreed."

Somewhat surprisingly, given Munich's lofty aspirations, both Klinsmann and Bayern commercial manager Uli Hoeness tried to paint the draw against nose-diving Bremen as an acceptable result.

"We definitely could have decided the match in the first half, but in the second we, unfortunately, didn't find the necessary space," Klinsmann said in his immediate post-game statement.

But the fact that Klinsmann talks about finding rather than creating space perhaps indicates that the coach himself is at a loss as to how to get the squad functioning as a unit.

And higher up along the Bayern feeding chain, the grumblings of dissatisfaction are impossible to ignore.

"Bayern have been dependent on [Ribery] for a long time -- they're not the same team without him," Bayern grand seigneur Franz Beckenbauer told the Bild newspaper on Tuesday March 3. "Juergen said after the Bremen match that we're on the right track, but it's high time we find that track."

Showdown in Leverkusen

Hamburg's Marcel Jansen scores against Leverkusen's Rene Adler

Leverkusen, too, have taken some recent beatings

Bayern will be without Lahm, who's out sick, for the German Cup highlight. But opponents Leverkusen are also dealing with difficulties of their own. A popular dark-horse tip for the league title, they've lost two on the trot and dropped out of the league's top five teams.

After going down to defeat at lowly Hanover on Saturday, the team's young keeper Rene Adler took his teammates to task for a lack of intensity -- whereupon he himself was given a stern talking-to by commercial manager Rudi Voeller.

But like Bayern, Leverkusen see Wednesday's Cup match as a chance to gain confidence and resume their winning ways.

"The game against Bayern is coming at the right time for us," Adler told reporters on Tuesday. "Beating Munich and reaching the semi-finals will be worth its weight in gold."

But to achieve that aim, offensively minded Leverkusen may want to emulate the more defensively orientated teams that have humbled the champions in recent weeks.

In any case, since there's no possibility of a draw in Cup competition, one of these two teams will gain some needed momentum on Wednesday, while the other will be doing some serious soul-searching.

Schalke dumped out in cup upset

Kevein Kuranyi is beaten to the ball by a Mainz defender

Schalke were often second to the ball in their cup exit

Meanwhile, another top Bundesliga side stumbled out of the cup Tuesday when Schalke 04 were beaten 1-0 by second division club Mainz 05.

A late goal by Burkina Faso striker Aristide Bance two minutes from time gave the second tier team a shock victory over the Royal Blues and a place in the semi-finals.

Fans from both sides in Mainz were expecting the game to go into extra-time when Mainz were awarded a free-kick close to the half-way line.

Florian Heller floated the ball over the heads of two Schalke defenders and it fell to Bance, who had stolen his way behind the defense.

The striker had a simple tap-in from close range past Schalke goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to give Mainz their first-ever place in the semi-finals of the German Cup.

Mainz started the match very defensively, but allowed their first division opponents very few chances, though creating virtually none of their own in the first half.

Schalke twice looked dangerous when Mainz goalkeeper Timo Wache failed to come off his line decisively, but in the first instance Heiko Westermann headed wide and then Mladen Krstajic saw his header bounce against the upright.

In the second half, Mainz coach Joern Andersen encouraged his players to be a bit more offensive, but it took Bance's 88th minute strike to give them victory.

Mainz coach enjoys a deserved victory

Andersen said that even if Schalke had more of the play, his side was good for the victory. "There is nothing deserved or undeserved in cup soccer.

Schalke versus Mainz

Mainz battled to what their coach said was a deserved win

"We allowed them very little and worked very hard for this victory. Now we only have one game left and then we will qualify for the final in Berlin."

The coach said that his players, who started partying on the field after the final whistle had been blown, deserved their celebration.

"My players really did so well that they deserve to enjoy their victory. I am sure they will do that, but from Wednesday, we will again start working towards our main goal, which is gaining promotion to the first division."

Schalke manager Andreas Mueller said he felt his side had more of the game. "But we did not have enough chances and if you then catch a goal like that, you are really shocked.

"The situation for us is quite bad and we have to see now in the next few days how we can continue," he said. "I think we tried really hard to uplift the players and it must be up to them to show what they are worth at some stage, but now we need to build them up again."

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