Nothing says Christmas quite like a honking tractor horn.
As Bayer Leverkusen battled to victory over Hoffenheim last Sunday, the echoing quiet at the BayArena was suddenly interrupted by a chorus of tractors which had assembled outside the stadium.
Their bonnets draped in fairy lights and tinsel, the festive farmers tootled and parped their way through the second half before driving off to some other corner of the town.
Bayer Leverkusen’s 4-1 win against Hoffenheim on Sunday took them top of the Bundesliga
Leon Bailey (right) opened the scoring with a long-range goal and has been in sparkling form
An attempt, as local media reported later, to spread some Christmas cheer to the locked down citizens of Leverkusen.
They needn’t have bothered. For despite the general gloom of December 2020, there was plenty of cause for good cheer at the BayArena.
With a 4-1 win over Hoffenheim, Peter Bosz’s side leapfrogged Bayern Munich to go top of the Bundesliga table.
It is still early days, of course, but as midfielder Julian Baumgartlinger insisted on Sunday, ‘this is worth something’. It is six years since Bayer last held top spot, and this time it is no fluke.
With their whirlwind front line and uncharacteristic solidity at the back, Bosz’s side have been among the highlights of this Bundesliga season so far. As they prepare to take on local rivals Cologne on Wednesday evening, they might even be considered outsiders for the title.
Not that anyone will really believe that until they see it. This, after all, is the famous ‘Neverkusen’, a club so good at not winning titles that it has become a part of their identity.
Peter Bosz’s (centre) side have been among the highlights of the Bundesliga season so far
In 2000, they lost the title thanks to a final-day own goal from a young Michael Ballack. Two years later, they went one better. In the last few weeks of the 2001/02 season, they threw away a five-point lead at the top of the table and were losing finalists in both the German Cup and the Champions League. The treble of near misses has clung to them like a bad stench ever since.
There were wafts of it last July, as Bosz’s young team went down fighting in the cup final against Bayern. There is no shame in losing to the champions, but a goalkeeping howler and a chronic wastefulness in the final third on that night left Leverkusen wondering yet again what might have been.
After that game, many predicted a tough year, as talisman Kai Havertz left to follow in Ballack’s footsteps at Chelsea and striker Kevin Volland departed for Monaco. Yet far from suffering in their absence, the players who remained have appeared liberated this term.
In Lucas Alario, Leverkusen have a ruthless poacher who has scored three braces already this season. In 17-year-old Florian Wirtz, who faces his former club on Wednesday, they have a natural successor to Havertz. And in Moussa Diaby and Leon Bailey, they have devastating pace and penetration on the…
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