No name calling just yet please, say Leverkusen

March 9, 2010

So they lost their first match of the season and dropped back three points from the top.

Big deal says Bayer Leverkusen coach Jupp Heynckes after their 3-2 loss to Nuremberg on Sunday. He is quick to reject any of the tags that Leverkusen have had to deal with for much of the past 15 years, like “Neverkusen” and “Vizekusen”.

“That is irritating, but I cannot defend myself against such voices,” Heynckes said of the nicknames that are now more frequently used in the media following the first defeat.

“What exactly happened here?”, he told reporters on Monday. “Nothing. We were top of the table until the 24th matchday and then we just lost one match because we were not well positioned in our defence.”

Long a team with huge potential, they became branded as the ultimate underachievers when they lost — in just a matter of weeks — the German Cup, German League and the Champions League final in 2002.

That became known as the “Treble Horror”. Four times they finished second in the Bundesliga from 1997 to 2002. In both the 2000 and 2002 Bundesliga runs they had the title within their grasp only to let go in the last matches of the season.

This season though they have almost always managed to dig themselves out of difficult situations.

With Nuremberg they also came from 3-0 down to trail 3-2. What has marked their game under Heynckes is determination and maturity, being able to turn games around as well as the explosive offence which is still the best in the league.

They have impressed so often this season and it would be foolish to write them off as title contenders just yet.

While Felix Magath’s Schalke 04 have quietly crept into second place with their coach continuing to downplay their title chances — just like he did last year with VfL Wolfsburg before winning the Bundesliga — Leverkusen are far from done.

They take on Schalke 04 on March 27 and then host leaders Bayern Munich two weeks later and given their continuity and smart play all season, they are still in with a fighting chance.

PHOTO: Bayer Leverkusen’s Toni Kroos (L) and Sami Hyypiae react during their German Bundesliga soccer match against Nuremberg in Nuremberg March 7, 2010. Nuremberg won the match 3-2. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

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