Champions League-bound Bayer Leverkusen squandered a 3-0 lead with 22 minutes of the regulation 90 to play to lose an incredible DFB-Pokal tie 4-3 to their until then overwhelmed 2. Bundesliga hosts.
Dresden sat off their guests initially, inviting them into the attacking half. Although this worked in halting Leverkusen’s early stroll forwards, the hosts soon got sucked further up the pitch, leaving their deep defence exposed to an early André Schürrle dribble towards the D and a shot that wasn’t too far wide. Dresden looked ill at ease in their 4-2-3-1 system, and this was exploited in the third minute; Hanno Balitsch fed with time and space to reach the byline. His subsequent pull-back only just evaded Erin Derdiyok, with the yellow-shirted defenders around him running about like headless chickens.
As Robin Dutt’s side were monopolizing possession, Ralf Loose encouraged his team to push further up the pitch, narrowing the corridors and outnumbering the Leverkusen midfield. But they were sitting far too narrowly, allowing the away side to attack with numbers and subtle through-passes down and from the flanks. And in the fifth minute, Lars Bender launched a disguised burst through the right-hand side of the box, showed fantastic acceleration and power to reach the byline before his marker, and then chipped a cross towards the centre of the six-yard-box where Derdiyok was standing between the two centre-backs ; a position that allowed him to head the ball in off the bar for a deserved 1-0 lead.
If anything, Leverkusen’s dominance of the ball and the game increased after going ahead. They camped out in the Dresden half, interchanging superbly and never losing the ball with their floor-based passing game. Renato Augusto lurked near the halfway line, constanly on the hunt for threading and dribbling room, as Pavel Fořt chased the man on the ball like a possessed maniac – his colleagues deep, rigid and fearful behind him in banks of four and five, struggling to contain the fluid bursts by the attackers. And, in the 12th minute, 60 seconds or so after a mistake by Stefan Reinartz at the back had allowed Robert Koch to go close and give the vociferous crowd even more of a lift (the Dresden fans weren’t going to let the result or their side being outclassed get them down), Sidney Sam grabbed his side’s second goal of the game. Once again, it was a Leverkusen attacker peeling away from the home side’s centre-backs far too easily, this time Sam running on to a scooped through-ball from Rolfes. The former Hamburg man coolly looped the ball over the oncoming Dennis Eilhoff, whose clatter did nothing to prevent the score becoming 2-0 to the visitors!
The home side saw a bit more of the ball after falling further behind, but the game was surely now all but sealed in favour of Dutt’s side. Nevertheless, Loose’s side tried to bludgeon their way towards a goal that just might change the complexion of the game; crossing early without really looking, shooting on sight, and passing long from the back. When Leverkusen got the ball back, they were sensible and measured – only really making ambitious passes if the space was big enough, wearing down the Dresden defence regardless of whether or not a pass was made thanks to the fluid foremost four players; constantly swapping positions through a series of diagonal darts, showing that a lot of work has gone in on the training ground to integrate Schürrle into the system, and to find new ways of breaking down sides at home and abroad who park the bus. It must also be noted that the full-backs, Ballitsch and the dynamic Michel Kadlec, had kept the width for Dutt’s side throughout the opening 25 minutes with real professionalism, ensuring that Fořt remained isolated far too frequently up top for Dresden.
As we approached the half-hour mark, Dynamo tried to press Leverkusen’s short restarts in a 4-4-2, narrowing the angles and keeping the piano carriers of Rolfes and Bender guarded. But once again, it was clear Dresden were going to take a while to adjust to a change in shape, shown by Schürrle jinxing in the gaping corridor between the hosts’ defence and midfield and winning a free-kick: floated into the box by Renato Augusto, spilt by Eilhoff, but cleared before anyone could turn it in the net for 3-0.
The half began to peter to a close in a not entirely unexpected manner – Leverkusen slick and intelligent in possession, Dresden anything but. Nevertheless, the hosts had managed to strike more of a balance between pressing higher and keeping their banks tight, meaning the visitors, who now seemed to have Sam on the left and Schürrle on the right more regularly, had to work a bit harder in possession. But having players so quick of thought and feet certainly helps, and on a number of occasions, Leverkusen were content to release one of the full-backs into the acres of wing space in the final-third, before passing back into their own half – Dresden sprinting this way and that all the while, burning energy somewhat needlessly.
It is, of course, a skill in itself to make playing football look so simple, and every one of Leverkusen’s players deserves praise for their first half performance. When their colleagues further back were in possession, at least two or three attackers were always on the move. When the defenders had the ball, Rolfes and Bender never settled for standing still, always on the lookout for better space to bob into. And the defence, who executed their offside trap with inch-perfection on several occasions, looked impenetrable save for one or two slips.
There were no changes for the second half, although the quarter-hour break seemed to have done Dresden’s shellshocked players some good. They started the half with more energy and belief on and off the ball, and went close when Marcel Heller drew David Yelldell into a rare save in the 48th minute. But the American ‘keeper used the ball to go long for a change, catching Dresden cold. They were unable to shimmy back into their positions before Derdiyok had nodded the ball out to Schürrle, the former Mainz starlet setting himself just off the box’s left-hand joint to curl a sumptuous right-footed strike beyond the reach of Eilhoff for 3-0!
Bayer were back to the bossing the ball again, enacting the same cynical professionalism by splicing their hosts’ midfield and defence in the final-third, before passing back into their own half having hauled the eleven men of Dresden in and around their own box. The home side’s back four looked petrified whenever the ball was played to an attacker’s feet, dropping deeper and willing to do anything as long as it meant they didn’t have to get tight or try and make a tackle. Such was Leverkusen’s command that even when Dresden’s most experienced player, Trojan, ran onto a pass played down the left wing in the 61st minute, both Reinartz and the Bender managed to out-muscle and out-think him, clearing the danger.
A minute later, we saw like-for-like, leg-resting changes. Michael Ballack came on for Rolfes, and Stefan Kießling went up front in place of Derdiyok. Leverkusen were gradually morphing into a 4-1-4-1, the shape favoured by Dutt during his time at Freiburg. This was also a response to the fact that was little need to have deep-standing midfielders, what with Dresden having so many players pushed back into their own half. But in the 67th minute, Dresden were given a lifeline by Reinartz lured out into conceding a free-kick and earning a booking. The hosts’ Spanish midfielder Cristian Fiél curled an inviting ball into the box with his left foot, and with no one in white and red taking charge of clearing the cross, Sebastian Schuppan leapt to loop a head beyond Yelldell for 3-1!
And then, two minutes later, so second best at times that it had been painful to watch, made it 3-2! With Leverkusen stretched, Trojan curled in a cross from the left. The away side’s centre-backs were ideally placed, guarding Fořt, but as the ball floated over them, Koch took advantage of some Kadlec ball-watching to head in and send the majority of the crowd at the Glücksgas Stadion wild. Had Dutt been too hasty and presumptuous in altering his system?
Now possessing the momentum and the football itself, Dresden looked like an entirely different side to the one who contested the first hour of the match. Despite Bayer pressing high and fast in their 4-1-4-1, Dresden showed no fear, and knocked the ball about with confidence and zip, sending midfielders on darts around Bender, now looking lonely behind Renato Augusto and Ballack. If anything, it was the away side who now moved too hurriedly on the attack, as seen in the 76th minute when Schürrle wasted Sam finding space to home in on goal with by playing a heavy and speedy through-pass. The latter then wasted the pass he eventually collected going away from goal by laying on Ballack, whose shot was too obvious and thus, blocked.
Nine minutes later, the most unthinkable of turnarounds had been completed. Schuppan stepped in from the left, and floated a cross towards the other side of the box on his right foot. Marvin Knoll, on as a substitute for Heller and nominally positioned on the left of midfielder, headed the ball back across the box. Defenders, Yelldell and Fořt threw themselves at the ball, but it was Koch who made the only true connection, passing in at the back post for 3-3, and extra time!
Both sides played with more caution and reserve during extra time, tiring legs and perhaps one thought on next weekend’s league fixtures also coming into play. There were little more than half-chances in terms of goalmouth action, with both sides seeing an even amount of possession. But then, in the 116th minute, Bayer sent too many men forward for a corner, and with Dresden clearing sharply and quickly, substitute Alexander Schnetzler was fed to go one on one with Yelldell, coolly scoring with a Panenka to complete Dresden’s miracle!