Matthias Lehmann gave the visitors a shock lead from the penalty spot, only for the hosts to stage a fightback and secure all three points thanks to braces from Karim Bellarabi and Josip Drmic, as well as an outstanding Hakan Calhanoglu free-kick.
No way through
On paper at least, this match had the air of a foregone conclusion before kick-off, with UEFA Champions League participants Leverkusen hosting promoted side Köln. In reality, however, it was anything but, and a historically unpredictable Rhineland derby threw up surprises throughout an entertaining encounter. The home side began with their now trademark furious pressing but it was the underdogs who took the lead when Lehmann slotted home from the penalty spot in the fourth minute after being brought down in the box by home goalkeeper Bernd Leno.
The early goal allowed the Billy Goats to settle into their customary away tactics of sitting deep and pouncing on the counterattack. Indeed, Leverkusen found no way through a compact Köln defence and failed to test visiting keeper Timo Horn in the first 25 minutes as their moves invariably broke down on the edge of a crowded Köln penalty area.
As such it was unsurprising that Bayer’s equaliser came as a result of a set-piece, with Calhanoglu’s rasping 30-yard free-kick spilled by Horn into the path of Bellarabi, who made no mistake from close range. Leverkusen continued to struggle to get behind the Köln defence, so tried a new strategy of peppering an unsettled Horn with long-distance efforts after that equaliser. It almost paid dividends when the custodian failed to hold Gonzalo Castro’s strike, but he managed to collect the ball again just ahead of Stefan Kießling.
The second half was a disjointed affair initially and neither side managed to string together any meaningful moves as a hard-fought battle ensued in a congested midfield. And with clear-cut sights of goal a rarity, it was another dead-ball situation that broke the deadlock. A clumsy tackle by Mergim Mavraj on Heung-Min Son 30 yards out gave the hosts a free-kick in a central position that was tailor-made for Calhanoglu. The Turkey international did not disappoint and curled an exquisite strike over the wall and into the top corner.
Drmic on target
Going behind for the first time all afternoon forced the visitors out of their shell in search of an equaliser, a fact which played into Leverkusen’s hands as it gave them greater time and space on the break. They got a deserved third goal in the closing stages when Son drew two defenders to him by holding up the ball in the box, before flicking it to the unmarked Drmic to curl into the far corner.
The Swiss frontman struck his second of the afternoon shortly afterwards with a well-executed volley into the roof of the net and Bellarabi gave the scoreline extra gloss by finishing off a swift counterattack in the last minute to ensure Leverkusen Rhineland bragging rights.
Line-ups and statistics