Sommer’s heroics not enough as Gladbach left looking over their shoulder | Andy Brassell
He should have been a hero for a second straight week, but that’s just not how things are working out for Borussia Mönchengladbach right now. Yann Sommer had already flexed his considerable goalkeeping muscles last week, keeping Bayern Munich at bay to help bring home a famous win. This week, the Switzerland star perhaps even bettered himself.
In Saturday’s late game with Bayer Leverkusen, a perennial rival for the Champions League places in recent years, Sommer saved not one but two penalties in the second half, and they were both great stops, first plunging to his right to deny Patrik Schick and then later to his left to fingertip Kerem Demirbay’s effort. He became the first goalkeeper to deny two penalties in a Bundesliga game since FC Nürnberg’s Raphael Schäfer kept out efforts from Domi Kumbela and Ermin Bicakcic in February 2014. The difference there was that Schäfer’s heroics helped Nürnberg win the game. For Sommer despite that and another of other stops, notably an excellent double save from Amine Adli to keep hope flickering for Gladbach as time ran out, there was no such reward.
Even the greatest of goalkeepers can only do so much and for Sommer, the miracle was holding back the tide for so long. He faced 32 shots from Leverkusen ( they created from just 45% of the possession), 14 of which were on target, for an eye-watering xG of 6.22. Still, he kept the visitors hanging on.
“We were more tense than usual on the bench in those last few minutes,” confessed Leverkusen coach Gerardo Seoane. “A set piece or a deflected shot can always happen to you.” Jonathan Tah, the defender, said, “another 2-2 would have been a disaster,” underlining how the shadow of Sommer was starting to loom in the minds of Leverkusen.
The goalkeeper may not have earned his side a point, but he has perhaps earned Adi Hütter some cover. This fixture has usually felt like it had direct consequences of late, but not this time. The win put Die Werkself into third position but Gladbach will not be troubling them in a hurry, now trailing them by ten points. They are only four points ahead of the relegation play-off place and second-bottom Stuttgart and but for Sommer, could have suffered a truly humbling defeat.
In a different context and with a different headline, Hütter’s defensive choices might be coming under greater scrutiny. Marvin Friedrich, who arrived from Union Berlin this week, was less thrown in the deep end, more chucked in the middle of the ocean without a life vest. The coach described the choice to include him rather than Matthias Ginter, who will not extend his expiring contract, as backing “a player for the future.” He does realise that in their current state of difficulty, he can’t rule any options out, though. “Ginter is a good player and I didn’t say the door was closed,” said Hütter. “We have to get out of this situation with or without him.”
And what a situation it is, with Gladbach the owners of the third-worst defensive record in the division – behind long-gone Greuther Fürth and ailing Hertha – and the defence far from the only problem. The midfield is failing to protect the backline which is why Hütter underlined “you can’t compare” the status of Denis Zakaria, another on an expiring deal who might even go this month, with that of Ginter. Put simply, it is an area in which the team has far greater need. Laszlo Benes, starting a second Bundesliga game of the season in place of the unwell Christoph Kramer, looked lost even before conceding the first penalty. Robert Andrich headed Leverkusen in front from the resulting corner).
At the other end, some product from Alessane Péa and Marcus Thuram (combined goals tally this season – three) would be also welcome to give Sommer some respite. Back in 2014 it may have worked out for Scäfer on the day but the season went downhill rapidly. Nürnberg lost 11 of their remaining 12 games and were relegated. Gladbach will hope the opposite fates after their goalkeepers’ big days will continue.
One of Borussia Dortmund’s most complete performances of an unpredictable season, Friday’s 5-1 win over Freiburg, was quickly overshadowed by a post-match interview Erling Haaland – who scored twice – gave with Norwegian broadcaster Viaplay in which he told reporter Jan Aage Fjørtoft that “the club is trying to put pressure on me to make a decision” on whether he will stay beyond the summer. This was refuted by Sebastian Kehl on Sport 1’s Doppelpass (“we’re not pushing him at all, but it’s also clear that as a club we have to plan with surety”) but it is hard to see how this saga is resolved cleanly. The plus for BVB is that even if the title seems out of reach, they’ve never looked as comfortable in second place. The gap to Leverkusen in third (eight points) is bigger than the gulf between them and Bayern (six).
Bayern’s lead at the top had thus been trimmed to three points overnight but the still-depleted leaders quickly scrubbed away any doubts in an imperious display at Köln on Saturday afternoon, despite still having a number of Covid-related absences. Robert Lewandowski’s hat-trick in a 4-0 win – punctuated by a magnificent strike by the soon-to-be-out-of-contract Corentin Tolisso – took him onto the mark of 300 Bundesliga goals, while Manuel Neuer got his hands on a rare prize afterwards, swapping his shirt for Effzeh coach Steffen Baumgart’s fabled flat cap.
Leipzig continued their positive steps under Domenico Tedesco, winning a first Bundesliga away game of the season (and their first since emerging victorious at now-second-tier Werder Bremen in April last year), 2-0 at Stuttgart. With new Red Bull technical director Mario Gomez looking on from the stand, there was concern for Dominik Szoboszlai, who pulled up in the warm-up with an apparent thigh complaint and is due an MRI to assess the damage.
After six straight losses in the Bundesliga alone Wolfsburg stemmed the flow, but hardly in glorious fashion, being held to a goalless draw at home by Hertha. “It isn’t enough,” admitted goalkeeper Koen Casteels, while for the visitors Fredi Bobic addressed his first general meeting since becoming the club’s managing director of sport. He denied accusations of cronyism in appointing Tayfun Korkut as coach (“he’s not my buddy”) and while remaining sanguine, emphasised a need for progress. “I want to see development,” said Bobic, intimating he would assess Korkut’s impact at the season’s end.
History was made at Mainz, who beat Bochum 1-0, with Bo Svensson receiving his fourth yellow card of the season and thus becoming the first Bundesliga coach to be suspended for accumulation of bookings – he’ll be absent from the touchline for Saturday’s trip to Fürth. Defender Stefan Bell, the team treasurer, will be reminded by his teammates to collect the appropriate fine from the boss. “Of course he has to pay up,” said midfielder Kevin Stöger, “and I told him that right after the game.”