BERLIN – Bayern Munich are unsure whether Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer can play in next week’s crunch German Cup tie at Hertha Berlin after losing more ground in the Bundesliga title race on Saturday.
The defending German champions were humbled 3-1 at Bayer Leverkusen to leave them seven points behind leaders Borussia Dortmund in the title race.
To make matters worse, Bayern later dropped to third in the table after Borussia Moenchengladbach’s 2-0 win at 10-man Schalke meant they drew level on 42 points and leap-frogged into second on goal difference.
"The only positive thing is that Dortmund didn’t get three points," said Bayern’s head coach Niko Kovac after Dortmund drew 1-1 at Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday.
"Now we are seven points behind and that’s no small amount.
"We have to use the remaining games, which won’t be easy, but we won’t give up, we still believe and will keep on working."
After Leon Goretzka gave Bayern a 1-0 first-half lead and Robert Lewandowski had a goal ruled offside, Kovac’s side had few answers as Leon Bailey curled in a free-kick, then Leverkusen attacked on the counter with goals by Kevin Volland and Lucas Alario.
"We should have led by more after the first-half, then what happened is exactly what I didn’t want," said Kovac as Bayern’s seven-match winning streak in the league ended abruptly.
"We got into an exchange of blows with Leverkusen and they killed us.
"The goals we conceded shouldn’t have happened the way they did, so we have to be annoyed with ourselves.
"The result doesn’t reflect the game and we shouldn’t have lost it.
"Leverkusen had four shots on goal and created three goals."
The last half an hour was a horror show for Kovac and Bayern supporters as Leverkusen shredded the Bavarians defence with both Volland and Alario tapping home after the hosts countered at will.
To compound matters, Munich club captain and Germany shot-stopper Neuer missed the defeat in Leverkusen after injuring his thumb in training last week.
It is unclear whether Neuer can play in Wednesday’s German Cup, last 16 clash at Hertha Berlin, where Bayern have already suffered one of their four league defeats this season last September, going down 2-0 at the Olympic Stadium.
Kovac refused to say if Neuer could be fit in time, but Bayern’s stand-in goalkeeper Sven Ulreich, playing his first game for the Bavarians this season, was more candid.
"The thumb (Neuer’s) is really fat, but in one or two days things should look different and he could be able to play," said Ulreich, after his first game for seven months.
"Of course, I was happy to be able to play again, but it was bitter news for Manuel."
Victory was especially sweet for Leverkusen coach Peter Bosz in only his third game in charge after replacing sacked Heiko Herrlich during the winter break.
Dortmund earned a point in Frankfurt as club captain and playmaker Marco Reus tapped home his 13th league goal this season before Eintracht striker Luka Jovic, the league’s top-scorer, equalised with his 14th league goal this campaign.
"We have a point more than we did three hours ago and it’s the 20th round of matches – it doesn’t change much," insisted Dortmund’s director of sport Michael Zorc.
The seven-point margin turns up the pressure on Bayern with Dortmund now needing to lose at least twice.
For Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Burki, Bayern’s defeat at Leverkusen "is a small consolation, I’d say.
"We really wanted to win this game and if we had won here, it would have been a great weekend."