The veteran midfielder converted Karim Bellarabi's low cross in the 33rd minute after the hosts dominated the opening stages. Freiburg's best chances came through Jonathan Schmid, and even though Leverkusen's midweek European exploits caught up with them in the second period, the visitors never mustered enough to threaten an equaliser.
As if still on a high from an impressive midweek victory over Club Atletico de Madrid, Leverkusen began at breathless pace. Roberto Hilbert fired the game’s first shot high and wide in the second minute, while his fellow full back, Wendell, was finding plenty of joy when linking up with Heung-Min Son on the left. It was the South Korean who created the hosts’ next chance in the 12th minute, sliding in Stefan Kießling, who spurned his effort.
Aside from that, Roger Schmidt’s side were struggling to find a final ball to breach the massed Freiburg defence. Indeed, although Bellarabi was bristling with intent, the visitors remained resolute, and began to put the pressure back on die Werkself, predominantly through set pieces. Schmid’s dipping 27th-minute free kick drew an excellent save from Bernd Leno, who had to be equally alert from Felix Klaus' effort soon after.
Sensing blood, Freiburg opened out, but were caught cold soon after when Bellarabi’s cut-back allowed Rolfes to power home his first goal of the season. The opener allowed the hosts to regain their early control; Lars Bender and the Bayer 04 goalscorer sat deep in midfield to deny Admir Mehmedi and Schmid any space and Son almost capitalised on Leverkusen’s monopoly of possession when his driving run drew Roman Bürki into an excellent stop moments before half time.
The South Korean international continued to impress after the break, his rasping effort in the 52nd minute met by an excellent block from Julian Schuster as Leverkusen again strove to make their dominance count against Freiburg’s organised rearguard. The hosts were knocking it about confidently prior to the hour-mark, with plenty of fluid interplay on show, yet in the same fashion as the first period, the killer pass was not forthcoming.
No late show
With Freiburg’s limited attacking threat under control, Schmidt’s men hunted a second goal in the closing stages. Hakan Calhanoglu saw his shot deflected wide, but the Turkish international’s ensuing corner forced Freiburg custodian Bürki into evasive action. Son was the next to threaten in the 72nd minute, but he could only blaze his left-footed effort wide as Schmidt reacted to his side’s lack of penetration by introducing youngster Julian Brandt.
Within seconds of his arrival, Brandt’s low ball left Freiburg’s defence flummoxed, but Kießling failed to apply the finishing touch which would have put the game to bed. With die Werkself in total control, substitutes Josip Drmic and Stefan Reinartz spurned late opportunities to add to the lead, but as it was, Rolfes’ opener was enough to lift Leverkusen into the top four.
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