Lewandowski scores 30th goal of season as Bayern close on title

Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich falls in a duel over Leverkusen’s Julian Baumgartlinger during the match on Saturday. (AP)
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Updated 07 June 2020

Lewandowski scores 30th goal of season as Bayern close on title

  • Bayern struck twice in quick succession just before half-time to turn the game in their favor

BERLIN: Robert Lewandowski scored his 30th league goal of the season on Saturday as Bayern Munich came from behind to claim a 4-2 victory at Bayer Leverkusen and move a step closer to the Bundesliga title.

After Lucas Alario secured an early lead for the home side, Bayern struck twice in quick succession just before half-time to turn the game in their favor after Kingsley Coman’s equalizer.

Lewandowski netted in the second half as Bayern established a 10-point lead over title rivals Borussia Dortmund, who host Hertha Berlin later on Saturday.

The game also saw Bayern lend their support to protests over the death of black American man George Floyd, with all their players wearing armbands bearing the slogan “Black Lives Matter.”

With their talisman and Bayern transfer target Kai Havertz ruled out with a muscle injury, Leverkusen turned to Alario to lead the line against the champions.

The Argentine delivered after just 9 minutes, beating the offside trap after a throw-in to slot the ball past Manuel Neuer.

A mistake from Moussa Diaby allowed Coman to curl in the equalizer, before a fizzing shot from Leon Goretzka and an elegant lob from Serge Gnabry saw Bayern take a 2-goal lead before half-time.

Lewandowski finished the job with a well-placed header after the break, reaching the 30-goal mark for only the second time in his Bundesliga career, but there was still time for 17-year-old Florian Wirtz to curl in a consolation goal for Leverkusen before the final whistle.

Elsewhere, a late equalizer from Christian Strohdiek gave bottom-of-the-table Paderborn a faint glimmer of hope in the race for survival, as they snatched a 1-1 draw away to RB Leipzig.

Chelsea-bound Leipzig striker Timo Werner set up Patrik Schick on 27 minutes to give Leipzig the lead, but they were forced to defend it with 10 men after Dayot Upamecano was booked twice in the first half.

Strohdiek’s last-minute strike gave Paderborn their fourth draw in five games, though Steffen Baumgart’s side remain 8 points off Fortuna Duesseldorf who occupy the relegation playoff place.

Duesseldorf themselves missed the chance to move toward safety, as they battled to a dramatic 2-2 draw against 10-man Hoffenheim.

A headed opener from Rouwen Hennings and a red card for Hoffenheim’s Benjamin Huebner put the home side in pole position, but the visitors struck back with goals from Munas Dabbur and Steven Zuber before Hennings saved a point with a late penalty.

Uwe Roesler’s side remain 3 points adrift of survival, after goals from Moussa Niakhate and Pierre Kunde Malong gave fellow strugglers Mainz a rare 2-0 win over local rivals Eintracht Frankfurt.


Leeds face test of nerve as promotion looms

Updated 07 July 2020

Leeds face test of nerve as promotion looms

  • Marcelo Bielsa’s side look odds-on to secure the place among English football’s elite

LONDON: After 16 years in the wilderness, Leeds United are on the brink of an eagerly awaited return to the Premier League — as long as they can hold their nerve with the finish line in sight.

A 3-1 win at Blackburn on Saturday moved Leeds a step closer to the promised land from the long purgatory of the lower leagues.

Marcelo Bielsa's side sit one point clear at the top of the Championship heading into their last five matches.

With third-placed Brentford six points behind, Leeds look odds-on to secure the place among English football's elite that their legion of fanatical fans used to regard as their birthright.

But Leeds were in a similar position last season and squandered a chance for automatic promotion before imploding in the playoffs.

When Leeds beat Sheffield Wednesday on April 13, 2019, a capacity crowd at Elland Road serenaded their jubilant team as if promotion had been secured.

Just 15 days later, after losses to Wigan and Brentford and a mad-cap draw against Villa — in which Bielsa told his team to deliberately let their opponents score following United's controversial opener — ended the Leeds top two challenge.

Leeds lost their nerve and Derby took full advantage in the playoff semifinal second leg, winning 4-2 to leave the Elland Road faithful in tears.

From the ashes of that bitter evening, Bielsa has dragged Leeds back into promotion contention.

But, with last season's collapse in mind, Leeds fans might have been alarmed to hear Bielsa admit he is feeling the strain of the run-in.

"Yes," Bielsa said when asked if he felt anxious during the Blackburn game.

"Every match in this period is very important. If we get distracted we will pay for that so we need to keep focused in every match."

With English football being played behind closed doors for the rest of the season amid the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps Leeds will benefit from playing in silence, rather than in front of their anxious fans.

"I'd love to be there more than anything. But it's such a nervous time and I do think that could impact the players," Leeds season-ticket holder Simon Sanders told AFP.

"Nothing feels quite right with this virus and the way the world has changed but if we make it the party will go on for weeks."

Three of Leeds' remaining games will be played in the empty stands of Elland Road against struggling trio Stoke, Barnsley and Charlton.

Win those games and taken a point from one of their two away games at Swansea and Derby and Leeds will be assured of promotion.

It would be a moment to savor after such a long period in the shadows.

Champions of England in 1969 and 1974 under Don Revie, then in 1992 when Howard Wilkinson called the shots, Leeds have a rich history.

But since being relegated from the top tier in 2004, Leeds have stumbled from financial disaster off the pitch to despair on it.

Describing the club's ascent to the heady heights of the Champions League in the early 2000s, former chairman Peter Ridsdale claimed he had "lived the dream."

Their subsequent fall was a never-ending nightmare that hit its lowest ebb in 2007 when Leeds went into administration and were relegated to the third tier for the first time.

No wonder the much-travelled Bielsa is so beloved after just two years in charge.

The former Argentina, Lazio, Marseille and Bilbao boss has turned the tide at a tortured club infamously labelled the 'Damned United' by novelist David Peace and forever remembered as 'Dirty Leeds' in the minds of fans who saw their no-holds-barred style in the Revie era.

Now Leeds' Italian owner Andrea Radrizzani is embracing that checkered past in a bid to secure promotion at last.

"For Leeds, we have a history of being 'Dirty Leeds' and we actually channel that," Radrizzani told FIFA's Professional Football Journal.

"All of our boys are willing to fight for the shirt every week and having that character is important to being a Leeds player.

"I want to help Leeds return to the level our history and fans deserve."