BERLIN (Reuters) – Only weeks ago Bayer Leverkusen were seen as title contenders but after two defeats in two Bundesliga matches, Saturday’s visit to champions Bayern Munich feels more like a battle for survival for coach Heiko Herrlich.
Leverkusen suffered an opening 2-0 loss at Borussia Moenchengladbach and then followed it up with a shock 3-1 home loss to VfL Wolfsburg, who had needed a relegation playoff to stay up last season.
With some of the Bundesliga’s most talented players in his squad, including Germany internationals Jonathan Tah, Kai Havertz and Julian Brandt as well as Leon Bailey, Leverkusen fans had every right to have high expectations from Herrlich’s team this season.
But so far Leverkusen, fifth last season and level on points with third placed Hoffenheim, have failed to deliver.
“Even before the season got under way we were seen as finishing in second place. Now suddenly everything is bad,” the 46-year-old Herrlich told reporters this week. “We do have potential in the team and we need to show that as have done (last season).”
Herrlich said he was surprised by the sharp criticism after only two matches but said two defeats “are obviously not our expectation.”
“But I am happy that it was me who was on the receiving end of it and not the players. It is better like that because I can handle that.”
But he must also show his team can rediscover their form of last season which had made them one of the most exciting teams to watch in the league.
“We have to start doing our own things well and not look too much at the opponent. In the switch we have to defend together, work together. We have to do that over 90 minutes.”
They must now do it against in-form Bayern, who started the season with two wins and look to be on track for a seventh straight league crown.
“I see every match as a chance. The opponent is far superior, no doubt about it. But we will look for our chance,” Herrlich said. Another defeat, however, will inevitably pile more pressure on the coach.
Bayern will be fresh after the international break, with coach Niko Kovac having a full squad to chose from, apart from long-term injured Kingsley Coman. The Bavarians also kick off their Champions League campaign next week.
Schalke 04, last season’s runners-up who have had an equally bad start with two defeats, travel to Gladbach on Saturday while Borussia Dortmund host Eintracht Frankfurt a day earlier.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)