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Bayer Leverkusen 2 Bayern 0

Leverkusen down unfamiliar FCB line-up

With the Bundesliga title in the bag and all eyes already on next Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final first leg away to Barcelona, an untried Bayern formation showed plenty of tenacity away to Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday but ultimately fell 2-0 to the side now lying third in the standings.

The 30,210 full house at the BayArena saw Pep Guardiola’s men fight an early rearguard action to beat off the fast-starting home side, but the Reds’ confidence increased as the first half wore on and Mario Götze was unlucky not to open the scoring with the half-hour approaching. There was a setback ten minutes after the restart when Hakan Calhanoglu opened the scoring with a direct free-kick, the first conceded by Manuel Neuer since he arrived at Bayern in 2012, and despite a brave FCB rally, Leverkusen sub Julian Brandt made it two and sealed the result with nine minutes left.

The defeat, only the champions’ third in 31 league fixtures, means Bayern remain on 76 points, 14 ahead of second-placed Wolfsburg. As of now, the tension and excitement will build inexorably towards the huge European clash in midweek, but there are still three Bundesliga games to go and Europe-chasing FC Augsburg duly visit the Allianz Arena next Saturday afternoon.

Javi’s comeback, Rico’s debut

With the Barça showdown dominating his selection thoughts and the injury situation at the club still precarious, Guardiola made seven changes to the team that fell to Borussia Dortmund in the DFB Cup semi-final, with Neuer, Philipp Lahm, Mitch Weiser and Rafinha the only survivors from last Tuesday’s starting line-up.

The makeshift formation included a crop of fascinating backstories, as Javi Martinez made a first start of the regular season after battling back from a cruciate ligament tear sustained in the pre-season Super Cup; veteran Claudio Pizarro led the line in the absence of injured centre-forward Robert Lewandowski; and 22-year-old midfielder Rico Strieder, with six fourth-tier games for the reserves to his name, celebrated his senior debut for FCB.

The visitors lined up with Neuer in goal, Rafinha, Dante, Martinez and Strieder in the back four, Lahm and Gianluca Gaudino in the middle, Götze and Weiser out wide, and Bastian Schweinsteiger in the hole supporting Pizarro.

Mario denied

After referee Christian Dingert whistled play underway, the first chance fell to the visitors when Götze smacked a sixth-minute drive goalwards only for Bayer keeper Bernd Leno to beat the shot away at the second attempt. However, high-flying Leverkusen pinned the experimental Reds back into their own third for long spells, Stefan Kießling heading past Neuer from an early corner but seeing the effort chalked off for offside.

Guradiola’s men weathered the storm and began to pose a threat on the break, Croatia defender Tin Jedvaj clearing off the line on 27 minutes when Götze rounded Leno from Schweinsteiger’s defence-splitting through ball but failed to get enough power behind his shot at the unguarded goal.

The sides now cancelled each other out in midfield with Munich looking more assured as every minute passed, and the goalless scoreline was far from an unfair reflection of the first 45 minutes.

Manu beaten twice

The second half began with a great opening for Pizarro, but Leno stood his ground and fisted away the 36-year-old’s shot from the edge of the box. However, the home team again seized the initiative and dead-ball specialist Calhanoglu beat Neuer with a trademark 25-yard free-kick to break the deadlock in the 55th minute.

FCB came under severe pressure now with Bayer winning a string of corners, Neuer tipping one of them over his own crossbar and Jedvaj firing into the crowd from a good position. Martinez managed an hour but then gave way to Mehdi Benatia with Thiago also replacing Lahm, before Schweinsteiger’s set-piece from just outside the box hit the Leverkusen wall.

FCB II striker Lukas Görtler made his first-team debut in place of Pizarro on 72 minutes - and was only denied a goal with his first touch by the onrushing Leno after a superb Götze lay-off. The scorer of the World Cup final winner was again thwarted by the Bayer keeper as he charged clear, but Dante made a terrific block to prevent Heung-Min Son doubling the lead. Sub and birthday boy Brandt did add the 81st-minute second with a low shot following Karim Bellarabi’s storming run, and although the Reds fought to the end there was no way back on the day.

Live match report for by Chris Hamley