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Bayern Munich thrash Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 without a centre back in the XI

With centre-backs suspended or injured, Pep Guardiola played without one and shocked the Bundesliga with a 3-0 win

Xabi Alonso centre back Bayern Munich 3-0 Bayer Leverkusen
Pep Guardiola played Xabi Alonso as centre back for Bayern Munich in the 3-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga on Saturday night at the Allianz Arena

Last night, Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola pushed the limits of his side when he tinkered with the formation and available players in his squad. When the starting XIs were announced, people scratched their heads when they saw the Bayern lineup.

This was Bayern Munich’s starting XI for the Bundesliga game last night – Manuel Neuer, David Alaba, Xabi Alonso, Philipp Lahm, Juan Bernat, Arturo Vidal, Thiago Alcantara, Arjen Robben, Douglas Costa, Thomas Muller and Robert Lewandowski. Notice anything different? Anything missing?

Yes, Bayern played without a centre-back in their XI against Bayer Leverkusen – a side Pep Guardiola had said were Bundesliga title rivals only the previous day, according to All Sports. A top four side who are also in the Champions League this season. 

“Bayer Leverkusen are a great opponent. I am not going to say they are the biggest, but they are a great, great rival for the Bundesliga title," Guardiola had said. "They are a unique team with a very special style of playing football. They play really intensely and with a lot of pressure on the ball. So you don't have much time to think."

So it was surprising to see 33-year-old Xabi Alonso anchoring a 3-man defence instead of Dante in what was a formation that switched between 3-3-1-3 and 3-3-3-1. He was flanked by Alaba and Lahm on either side with Bernat, Vidal and Thiago the three men in midfield. 

With Jerome Boateng suspended and other centre-backs Holger Badstuber and Mehdi Benatia injured, this was the best Guardiola could muster. And what is remarkable is that it worked like a charm.

Bayern Munich formation Bayer Leverkusen
Bayern Munich’s starting XI against Bayer Leverkusen

Bayern Munich beat Bayer Leverkusen 3-0

Thomas Muller marked his 200th Bundesliga appearance with a brace – his 75th and 76th goal in the league. If you thought Alonso was in the side just to defend, you were wrong. The first goal saw Douglas Costa released down the left flank with a 40m pass from the Spaniard from deep inside his own half. Costa’s cut back into the box and brush aside Roberto Hilbert before his cross saw Muller score the first from the edge of the six-yard box. 

Douglas Costa Thomas Muller Bayern goals Bayer
Douglas Costa assisted Thomas Muller’s first goal

It was a night to forget for Hilbert as he then conceded two penalties – one for a handball and the other for a push on Vidal in the box on a set-piece. Both penalties were easily dispatched by Muller and Robben against Bernd Leno – Bundesliga’s best penalty saver. Muller was denied a chance to get a hat-trick in his landmark game but he was still the first player to celebrate with Robben after he scored. 

“We played a very good game. We worked hard this whole week and they had just two chances in the game which is crazy,” Guardiola said after the game, according to The Guardian. In fact, one of those two chances fell to 21-year-old Hakan Calhanoglu who almost beat Neuer with a free-kick from far out, only to be denied by the crossbar. The other chance that Leverkusen failed to score with was when Neuer denied Stefan Kiessling with some assistance from Alaba soon after the second half got underway.

Arjen Robben penalty Bayern 3-0 Bayer
Arjen Robben scored from the penalty spot to make it 3-0 in favour of Bayern Munich

“We can play even better than today,” Muller said. “When Douglas finds space he is a real weapon. Leverkusen go for the ball, they take risks, so you find the space.”

Indeed, Costa made a number of quick and powerful runs down the left flank – beating defenders with ease. When the score was 3-0, he was even seen showboating as he attempted a rainbow flick, much to the joy of the Bayern fans at the Allianz Arena who roared their approval. In total, Costa dribbles past an opponent seven times in the game. He is currently second in Europe in dribbles per game (with 5.7 per game). Only Lionel Messi has more (8.5 per game). 

Leverkusen failed to capitalize on the space afforded to them on many occasions in the gap between defence and midfield. But they had very few chances to attack as they were always on their toes, mindful of the damage Costa and Robben could inflict on either flank and Muller roaming in and around the box. 

All Bundesliga stats taken from WhoScored.

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