BERLIN (AP) — Bayer Leverkusen will be aiming to maintain its Bundesliga challenge longer than it did the last time it hosted Bayern Munich.
The teams are level on points at the top of the league going into Sunday’s match. Although it’s only been seven games, Leverkusen’s start is giving grounds for optimism under coach Gerardo Seoane.
But it was a similar story last year. Leverkusen was unbeaten and at the top of the Bundesliga after 12 matches before Bayern’s visit on Dec. 20. The home team got off to a great start with Patrik Schick scoring early. Then Robert Lewandowski equalized before the break and capitalized on a mistake from Jonathan Tah to score a dramatic winner in the third minute of injury time for Bayern’s 2-1 victory.
Bayern took over as leader and went on to claim a record-extending ninth consecutive title, while Leverkusen slumped under then-coach Peter Bosz. Bosz was fired in March after 10 losses in 17 games across all competitions, with Hannes Wolf taking over until the end of the season, when Leverkusen finished sixth.
Tah said it will be different this time.
“The last time we kind of tripped up,” the 25-year-old defender said. “I’m sure it won’t happen to us now.”
Tah said the team is benefitting from Seoane’s input. Leverkusen has only lost once since the former Young Boys coach from Switzerland took over — a hard-fought 4-3 setback at home against Borussia Dortmund.
“The coach has changed a lot in the dressing room,” Tah said. “I have the feeling that something is changing, in a positive way. It’s impressive.”
Leverkusen routed Arminia Bielefeld 4-0 in its last game before the international break. Bayern was surprised in a 2-1 loss at home against Eintracht Frankfurt.
“We can be proud. At the moment it’s a lot of fun to play for Bayer Leverkusen,” goalkeeper Lukáš Hrádecký said after the win in Bielefeld.
Leverkusen also enjoyed a 4-0 win at Celtic in the Europa League only days before.
Seoane encourages his players to attack and Leverkusen’s young team is seeing the benefit, with Schick, Moussa Diaby and Florian Wirtz all in top form. Schick has six goals in seven Bundesliga games, Diaby has chipped in with four, while the 18-year-old Wirtz has scored four and set up five more in only six league appearances.
Wirtz is the youngest Bundesliga player to rack up 10 goals. He’s one of the many promising players in the squad. Dutch Defenders Mitchel Bakker and Jeremy Frimpong are 21 and 20, respectively, Piero Hincapié is 19 and fellow defender Odilon Kossounou is 20. Brazilian forward Paulinho is 21 and Diaby is 22.
“Everyone is part of the team, everyone gets his playing time,” Hrádecký said. “We’re all in good form and full of confidence.”
Fifteen of the team were away on international duty, including Wirtz, who came on as a substitute to help Germany qualify for the World Cup on Monday.
“We need to be careful after the international break and stand up for Bayer Leverkusen,” Hrádecký said. “We hope everyone returns fit. Then the brakes are off.”