Eintracht Frankfurt 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen, Waldstadion
(Younes 22′, Tapsoba o.g. 54′ — Amiri 10′)
An early lead, secured by a moment of attacking brilliance, undermined by a string of basic errors that lead, ultimately, to defeat. Bayer Leverkusen at the start of 2021 look very much like Bayer Leverkusen at the end of 2020.
A late defeat to Bayern Munich meant Leverkusen weren’t able to head in to the early and shortened winter break on top of the pile but Peter Bosz’s side got another chance on Saturday, with the champions playing a day later. They couldn’t take it.
If that loss to Bayern was frustrating, this one felt more damaging. Frankfurt had won just three of their 13 games before this and found themselves behind again after a goal of rare brilliance.
Florian Wirtz showed composure and vision to clip a ball to Nadiem Amiri as he burst in to the Frankfurt box. But what happened next was something close to genius. Amiri took a silky first touch on the turn, losing his marker in the process. If that was good, drawing out goalkeeper Kevin Trapp before nutmegging him with a backheel was truly exceptional.
For all the artistry involved, it remains just one goal and, for this Leverkusen team, that’s often not enough. Just as they had against Bayern, Bosz’s side took their foot off the gas after leading and allowed Amin Younes to stroll through the center of their defense unchallenged and stroke home a first Bundesliga goal since 2013.
“Unfortunately after the lead, we were somehow too loose and too relaxed with the second ball,” lamented midfielder Julian Baumgartlinger after the game.
Despite that, Amiri and Wirtz were the men controlling the game and with Patrik Schick and Leon Bailey offering support, Leverkusen’s threat was clear. But so, once again, was their Achilles’ heel.
For Lukas Hradecky and Jonathan Tah against Bayern Munich, read Mitchell Weiser and Edmond Tapsoba against Frankfurt. First Weiser failed to control a regulation crossfield ball, then Tapsoba, stretching to clear the low cross, diverted it in to his own net.
Unlike against Bayern, the visitors then had plenty of time and the ball, but the closest they came to an equalizer was when Martin Hinteregger shanked a clearance on to his own bar.
“They [Frankfurt] were fully switched on, are extremely strong in duels, and we couldn’t really counter it,” admitted Amiri afterwards.
Perhaps a side who produce individual errors so consistently were never truly capable of challenging Bayern for the title, and there’s no real reason why they should. But for fans of German football starved of competition at the top, a side with such talents had looked equipped to make things interesting.
In many ways, they probably will. Amiri’s goal, like Schick’s the game before, was enough to catch anyone’s eye. But, it wasn’t enough to win the game. With fixtures against all four teams in the places directly below them in January, Bosz know he needs to rediscover the right balance quickly.
“We know that our team, my team, can do much better,” he said. “I think we have shown that in every game. Today there was none of that. We deserved to lose.”