Andre Schürrle’s stunning drive from distance put the home side ahead just before the break, and Stefan Kießling wrapped up the result with his eighth league goal of the season after the interval. In truth, the result could have been more comfortable for Bayer, who missed a host of chances including a Kießling penalty, while Schalke must digest one of their poorest displays of the campaign so far.
Scrappy but entertaining
One of the reasons behind Leverkusen’s strong form this season had been their attack, in particular Kießling's sharpness in front of goal. The former German international went into the game as the leading goalscorer in the calendar year 2012 and he showed why within minutes of the kick-off, diving onto Schürrle’s cross to glance a header wide from close range.
That early opportunity set the tone for the opening period of the game, as both teams embarked on a high-energy pressing game. Tackles and challenges were flying in and both sides looked to launch counter-attacks quickly, which made for entertaining viewing. Bernd Leno made an instinctive double-save to deny Julian Draxler, while Lars Unnerstall held a tame effort from Schürrle on the break.
Schürrle on song
Other than his early chance, Kießling had been relatively quiet, while his Schalke counterpart Klaas-Jan Huntelaar had been almost anonymous, managing just seven touches of the ball in the opening half. Given the overall lack of clear-cut chances, the first 45 minutes looked to be ending goalless until Schürrle provided a timely reminder of his quality, breaking forward to smash an unstoppable effort past a rooted Unnerstall.
That goal did little to change the pattern of the game after the restart however and, just as in the first half, the ball was switched from one end to the other extremely quickly. Schalke looked to be well set-up with Draxler and Jefferson Farfan taking up some good positions, but they were guilty of some poor decision-making in the final third and that handed the counter-attacking initiative to an already buoyant Leverkusen side.
Horror show for Blues
Die Werkself came within inches of a 2-0 lead when Lars Bender’s shot struck the post and Kießling could only send the rebound narrowly over the bar. But a second didn’t take long to arrive, as a glaring error in the Royal Blues defence put Schalke up against it. Christian Fuchs’ misplaced pass fell to Gonzalo Castro, and the midfielder played in Kießling to score his eighth goal of the season, as well as his 21st in 2012.
Trailing by two goals, Schalke then seemed to lose all concentration. Their play was littered with misplaced passes and poor positional play and they display a total lack of rhythm. With a better final pass, Leverkusen could have been in on goal on countless occasions. Simon Rolfes almost added a third when his acrobatic volley was well held by Unnerstall, before Kießling then blotted his copybook slightly by striking a weak penalty straight at the goalkeeper after Schürrle had been impeded by Roman Neustädter.
It took nothing away from a confident display from the home side, however, who deservedly move up to fourth in the table to within two points of Schalke.
Line-ups and statistics