Leverkusen - Ten-men Bayer 04 Leverkusen returned to winning ways on the domestic circuit as they closed out Saturday’s action in style courtesy of a hard-fought 1-0 win over fellow UEFA Champions League representatives FC Schalke 04 at the BayArena.
Bayer on the front foot
A stunning free-kick from set-piece specialist Hakan Calhanoglu shortly after the restart proved the difference as Leverkusen, reduced to ten men late on following Tin Jedvaj’s sending off, picked up their first win in four, whilst condemning the visitors to their first defeat under Roberto Di Matteo’s stewardship.
Proceedings settled into a rhythmic back and forth in the opening exchanges with both sides struggling to take care of possession, yet it was the hosts who looked the livelier, with Emir Spahic and Julian Draxler exchanging tame headers. There was more style than substance to Leverkusen’s movements, with Calhanoglu’s dipping 35-yard free-kick causing Ralf Fährmann few problems despite bouncing awkwardly in front of the Royal Blues’ keeper, but it was as close as either side came to an opener inside 20 minutes.
Schalke captain Benedikt Höwedes claimed his side were “allowed to be courageous up front and make mistakes providing they had enough men behind the ball” before the game, but while their backline stood firm, the visitors attacking exploits lacked conviction. At the other end Calhanoglu again went close, forcing Fährmann to produce a save at full stretch, before Stefan Kießling came within a whisker of turning Heung-Min Son’s cross into the back of the net as the sides went in at the break stuck in a stalemate.
Hakan provides the heroics
The intensity levels showed no signs of dwindling after the break as Leverkusen continued to create all the pressure, which had the visitors penned inside their own half. Eight minutes into the second half, though, Schalke’s stubborn resistance was ended. Calhanoglu finally beat Fährmann from a set-piece situation, curling an unstoppable effort around the wall and into the top corner, before both Karim Bellarabi and Heung-Min Son went close to adding a second soon after.
In a bid to alter his side’s fortunes, Di Matteo sent on former Leverkusen winger Sidney Sam, yet it did little to spark Schalke into life in the final third with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar cutting an increasingly frustrated figure in the face of Leverkusen’s unrelenting defensive discipline. The Royal Blues had mustered up just four shots on goal entering into the final ten minutes and, despite Jedvaj picking up a straight red card for a reckless challenge on Jan Kirchhoff, slumped to a disappointing defeat.
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