Bayer Leverkusen took full advantage of slip-ups by their immediate rivals at the top of the standings, winning 4-1 at Werder Bremen on Wednesday evening to move up to second place in the table.
First blood to Bayer
Two goals from Gonzalo Castro, one in each half, and late strikes by Simon Rolfes and substitute Jens Hegeler wrapped up the fifth victory in six league outings for the Werkself, lifting them above Dortmund, Schalke and Eintracht Frankfurt to become FC Bayern's closest pursuers, albeit still ten points behind the runaway league leaders. Bremen, who have are now winless in nine Bundesliga outings against Bayer, remain on 18 points and drop into the lower half of the table.
The contest started at a lively tempo and it was Leverkusen who had the first the first sniff of goal, Andre Schürrle firing Lars Bender's cutback from the right just wide of the post in the eighth minute. The visitors were edging the early stages in terms of possession, but Werder passed up a great opportunity to go in front in the 14th minute. Eljero Elia stylishly teed up Niclas Füllkrug inside the box, but the 19-year-old prospect, starting up front for the indisposed Marko Arnautovic, fired his close-range effort straight at Ömer Toprak with half the goal at his mercy.
The match was opening out at both ends now, although clear-cut chances remained at a premium. Midway through the half Stefan Kießling failed to find Schürrle as a highly promising breakaway fizzled out, one that had its roots in a badly misplaced pass by Bremen's Aleksandar Ignjovski. With just over half an hour played however, Bayer did then make the breakthrough. A fine move involving Bender and Kießling ended with home keeper Sebastian Mielitz making a fine initial stop to an angled shot from Daniel Carvajal, only for Castro to mop up the rebound - his fourth goal of the season.
Frantic start to second half
A few minutes later Aaron Hunt lashed a great shot on the full inches over the bar after Kevin De Bruyne's free kick had inadvertently felled Bender and the final chance of the half was also one for the hosts, Zlatko Junuzovic pulling a flying save out of Bernd Lerno with a long-range piledriver.
Neither side wasted any time getting back into the run of things after the restart, and after a promising few minutes from Bremen, Mielitz had to chase down a goalbound looping header from his own centre back, Sokratis, the keeper just managing to avert a curious own-goal. A matter of seconds later however, Bayer got number two anyway. Rolfes and Bender combined to free up Castro to run through on the overexposed Mielitz and coolly slot away his own second.
Late double seals it
Werder were in bad need of a swift response, and they provided it in the 54th minute. Hunt was give room to cross from the right seemingly at his leisure and his ball to the far post was duly dispatched by Petersen, the on-loan forward from FC Bayern taking his season tally up to five. The Green-Whites pressed forward in search of the leveller, with Elia particularly lively down the left.
Leno's goal was rarely threatened though and with quarter of an hour to go, Bayer instead reestablished their two-goal cushion. Kießling saw a shot blocked after home defender Sebastian Prödl had lost possession, but Rolfes drilled the rebound straight into the net from outside the box. Hunt promptly missed the target by inches from a similar position at the other end before Leverkusen went straight back up the pitch and bagged their fourth of the evening. Rolfes won possession off of Hunt and passed to Schürrle, who played the ball on to Hegeler for the sub to stroke home and put the result beyond any lingering doubt.
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