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A top-of-the-table clash ended up resembling an exhibition game. Bayer Leverkusen were terrible. Bayern Munich were ruthlessly brilliant. And the Bundesliga faces the same old questions, writes Matt Ford from Leverkusen.
With just over 35 minutes played and Bayern Munich already four goals up, one helpless Bayer Leverkusen supporter had been reduced to screaming random obscenities in the direction of the away end.
But barely had the swear words left his mouth, the ball was in the back of the net again for the third time in as many minutes.
Serge Gnabry's second. Bayern Munich's fifth. And a fixture billed as a top-of-the-table clash between two sides level on points had been reduced to something resembling an exhibition match.
Although that's probably a disservice to the assorted veterans and C-List celebrities who generally appear in exhibition matches; even they tend to have a midfield, and even they at least try and mark opposition players at set pieces.
Which is more than can be said for Bayer Leverkusen in the first half on Sunday.
From the moment Dayot Upamecano and Robert Lewandowski were left unmarked from a freekick in the third minute (and if there are any two set-piece threats to mark, then those two are an absolute bare minimum), the hosts were simply non-existent.
Thomas Müller could be seen racing out to the right wing to recover a loose ball which Leverkusen, seemingly, had collectively decided was a lost cause going out of play. It wasn't.
And then Leroy Sané was allowed to take as many touches as he fancied on the edge of the box to tee up a shot with flew back off the post. Take as much time as you like, Leroy.
Ridiculously, the only players attempting to take the ball off Bayern Munich were other Bayern Munich players: Lewandowski stopping Alphonso Davies' Sunday afternoon stroll through the Leverkusen penalty area to toe-poke home the second goal. And Müller getting in the way of Niklas Süle's shot to deflect the ball past Lukas Hradecky for the third. Perhaps this was another clever tactical ploy from Julian Nagelsmann to instruct his own players to do their opponents' jobs as well as their own.
Although, at this point, it would be remiss not to point out how impressively Bayern went about their own tasks, no player more so than Joshua Kimmich.
Much has been made this season of the varied threat posed by the Leverkusen forward trio of Moussa Diaby, Florian Wirtz and Patrick Schick this season, but those analyses have generally failed to take into account the presence of someone like Kimmich.
The baby-faced 26-year-old was a brilliant, omnipresent nuisance in Bayern's midfield, intercepting passes and cutting off every half-hearted Leverkusen attack before it had even begun. Every time Wirtz received a pass, Kimmich was immediately on hand to tackle and harass him.
"Wirtz plays the offensive keys brilliantly," German football magazine Kicker had written of the gifted Leverkusen teenager – who inevitably set up Schick's consolation goal in the second half – but it was Kimmich who conducted the orchestra on Sunday, as Bayern Munich went top of the Bundesliga.
Despite defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt two weeks ago, Nagelsmann's team are still very much favorites to win a tenth a consecutive German title, and the rest of the league is left asking once again what can be done about Bayern's dominance.
Scrap the 50+1 rule to encourage greater investment at other clubs? Redistribute Champions League revenue more fairly through the league? The financial arguments hardly hold water in the case of Leverkusen, exempt from 50+1, backed by pharmaceutical giants Bayer and yet still as inconsistent as ever.
And it's not as if the Bundesliga is alone. Italy, Spain and France have seen similar levels of dominance from one or two clubs over the past decade. The problem doesn't seem as acute in England, but only because the top clubs have all been sold off to venture capitalists, oligarchs and sovereign wealth funds.
Indeed, once Bayern Munich had dismantled Leverkusen, Newcastle United began their new era as a sportswashing vehicle for Saudi Arabia against Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League.
Is that what fans in Germany want to see, too? Anecdotal evidence heard by this reporter at Bundesliga matches this weekend suggests: absolutely not, regardless of how infuriating Bayern's dominance can be.
The most infuriated of the lot, the angry Leverkusen fan hurling insults, didn't even return to his seat for the second half, and who can blame him?
The Bayern striker was removed while on a hat-trick and a goal behind Erling Haaland but he knows the game was long done.
"Five goals in 45 minutes - that proves what kind of football we played," Lewandowski told broadcaster DAZN: "At the break it was clear that we were going back to Munich with three points. After that, we were able to play more with calm and control."
That's it, though in truth this game was all over by halftime, if not before. This was as convincing for Bayern as it was chastening for Leverkusen. The Bavarians go clear at the top of the table while Leverkusen equal their worst ever home loss in the Bundesliga.
The French winger fancies handing Leverkusen that unwanted record, but his shot from a tight angle is beaten away by Hradecky. Leverkusen just waiting for the whistle now.
They're going through the motions out there a bit now, with the exception of the subs trying to make an impact. One of them, Sabitzer, chances his arm from distance. But it's easy enough for Hradecky.
The points are gone but Leverkusen do have something to play for, avoiding their worst ever home defeat. That currently stands as a 5-1 loss to Bayern in 1984. As such, they'll be glad to see Süle's shot flash wide before Müller and Lewandowski are withdrawn for Musiala and Coman.
It may be meaningless, but this is a lovely goal. Wirtz finds a pocket of space and is always aware of the movement of Schick before a cute reverse ball in to the Czech's path. Schick takes is on immediatley and hammers it acros Neuer, the ball striking the inside of the post before nestling in the net.
This sort of game often fizzles out in the second half. Leverkusen would probably take that. A sub from each side at the break. Goretzka replaced by Sabitzer for Bayern and Tapsoba on for Paulinho for Leverkusen.
Well, even by Bayern's high standards, that was pretty incredible. Leverkusen have been dreadful, giving up space and the ball time after time. But Bayern have been ruthless, with Gnabry, Sane and Lewandowski to the fore and Kimmich setting the tone. Manuel Neuer has been a virtual spectator. Nagelsmann can start to turn his attentions to Benfica on Wednesday.
Usually if a player is replaced before halftime, they've had a shocker or picked up an injury. Julian Nagelsmann seems to be withdrawing Davies because the game is done, the Canadian did a lot of travelling in the international break.
What is going on? We're used to Bayern beating title pretenders, but this is something else. Again, Leverkusen the architects of their own downfall as they give the ball away. This time Gnabry plays a simple one-two with Goretzka before making it five. That's four goals in seven minutes.
Wow. Frimpong coughs up the ball in midfield and Bayern pounce. Müller has time and space and picks out a sumptuous pass across goal with the outside of his boot. Gnabry hares in from the right to meet it and deftly lift it in.
This could be an absolute massacre. Recent history repeats as Leverkusen defend a setpiece terribly. This time Süle is allowed far too much space at the back post. He takes it down and stabs goalwards. his effort hits Müller who, if we're feeling generous, guides it past the keeper. Brilliant stuff from Bayern, this.
That little spark for the home side is quickly extinguished. This is an excellent move, with key contributions from Kimmich and Müller, before a deft Sane layoff finds Davies driving forward. The Canadian surges across the box before Lewandowski pulls rank, nicking it off his teammate's toe and steering it in to the net. Hard to see a way back for the hosts already.
Leverkusen enjoy their best spell of the game. With some nice interplay involving Schick, Paulinho and Wirtz earning them a corner. From it, the ball falls to Schick with his back to goal. There's bodies everywhere and Paulinho hits the deck. Leverkusen want a penalty but there's nothing there but a hint on desperation. Tah then heads over from another corner, Leverkusen's first effort on goal.
Leroy Sane seems to have come through a tough start to this season and is starting to look like the player we've all seen at Manchester City and Schalke. He's had a few moments in and around the box already before rattling Hradecky's right post with a powerful low drive from 25 yards. The danger is mainly coming from him and Gnabry, as Bayern start to take control.
Leverkusen have actually been decent on the ball, both before and after the goal, though they've lacked that killer instinct in the final third. But they've given Bayern a chance. You can't really afford to do that, and you certainly can't afford to do it to Lewandowski.
It's him again. Great movement, smart finish from Lewandowski but Leverkusen completely switched off. Sane, sporting an, ermm...., interesting moustache, chipped a freekick form the left to Upamecano, who'd peeled off to find acres on the other side of the box. The center back helped it across goal and Lewandowski anticipated first, reacted quickest and flicked past Hradecky.
Wirtz gets us underway. A reminder, if either team win this one, they'll go top. If it's a draw, Borussia Dortmund will stay at the summit.
The teams are in as the countdown to kickoff continues. Süle will play at rightback, with Pavard suspended but Musiala will start on the bench along with Sabitzer and the returning Coman. Few surprises in the home side either, with Schick leading the line and the in-form Wirtz in behind him.
Erling Haaland's third Bundesliga brace in a row, and fourth in six games puts him clear in the race for the Törjägerkanone as the league's top scorer despite missing two games with injury.
But there will be two men at the Bay Arena on Sunday with hopes of catching the Norwegian. Leverkusen's Patrik Schick and Bayern's Robert Lewandowski both stand on six goals ahead of this one. Lewandowski's brace last December ended Leverkusen's unbeaten start to the season while Schick, who impressed at Euro 2020, is averaging a goal every 91 minutes in the league this term.
Before Leverkusen and Bayern battle do battle, it was Borussia Dortmund's turn. BVB made no mistake on Saturday with an Erling Haaland brace adding to an early Marco Reus strike to secure a 3-1 win over Mainz. Both Leverkusen and Bayern are two points back, meaning Dortmund stay top with a draw but a winner in Sunday's game will see that side take the lead.
Elsewhere in the Bundesliga on Saturday, Freiburg drew 1-1 with RB Leipzig, Union Berlin beat Wolfsburg 2-0, Hertha Berlin won 2-1 in Frankfurt and Bochum won the battle of the promoted clubs, beating Greuther Fürth 1-0 away.
Two of Germany's brightest young talents, Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala will likely line up against each other on Sunday and the praise for the 18-year-old pair has been universal this week.
Bayern president Herbert Hainer called them "the two young stars who are shaping German football at the moment," while Seoane said: "Both are players with extremely high offensive potential, both are technically very gifted, both make very good decisions in the final third and are goal-hungry. Both have a good future in the national team."
Rumors have already started that Wirtz may join the Bavarians in the future, as is the way with any young German talent.
The Werkself will be without Robert Andrich, who serves the final match of his suspension for a red card against Stuttgart but Mitchel Bakker could return.
Bayern are without Benjamin Pavard, also suspended, and Niklas Süle is expected to get the nod over Josip Stanisic, who signed a new contract earlier in the week. Kingsley Coman is a doubt.
Bayer Leverkusen possible starting XI:
Hradecky; Frimpong, Kossounou, Tah, Bakker; Aranguiz, Demirbay; Bellarabi, Wirtz, Diaby; Schick
Bayern Munich possible starting XI:
Neuer, Süle, Upamecano, Hernandez, Davies; Goretzka, Kimmich; Gnabry, Müller, Sane; Lewandowski
Julian Nagelsmann, Bayern Munich: "I'm expecting it to be an exciting game to watch. Both teams like to attack [...] They have become a solid unit and have a strong team spirit. We will need to play to our best, but we are confident we can do that."
"When two teams that are next to each other in table face off, then it always makes for a good game. Bayern against Leverkusen has always been an exciting fixture. We are looking forward to it."
Gerardo Seoane, Bayer Leverkusen: "We are looking forward to the game and to a full stadium. We know that it will be a tough game, but we have the ambition to compete with the top teams."
"We need courage and aggression to press high, but also the understanding to stand deep at times. It will be extremely important that we do both together with the whole team."
Bayer Leverkusen have started life under Gerardo Seoane very nicely indeed, and sit level on points with Julian Nagelsmann's Bayern, who lost to Eintracht Frankfurt last time out.
But we've been here before. Most recently last season, when Leverkusen blew the chance to go in to 2021 at the top of the pile after handing the Bavarians a 2-1 win, the initiative and the table lead, which they never let up. Kick off is on Sunday at 14:30.