Cologne 2-0 Bayer Leverkusen

The first half formations.

Bayer Leverkusen conceded the title to Dortmund but secured their spot in next season’s Champions League group stage – despite losing the Rhine derby to Cologne, who now move four points clear of the drop zone.

With Wolfsburg beating Werder Bremen the evening before this Saturday afternoon game, Cologne were once again in the thick of the relegation battle. A disastrous loss of form and the sudden departure of coach Frank Schaefer in the week meant that Leverkusen were the clear favourites for this tie. Dortmund were playing simultaneously, with both they and Leverkusen knowing that a loss for Dortmund and a win for Leverkusen would see the gap at the top reduced to two points. But for Jupp Heynckes’s side, the real goal was simply to win irrespective of how Dortmund got on, as three points here would guarantee the club’s place in the Champions League group stages for next season (even if Heynckes is Bayern Munich-bound). Continue reading

Mainz 0-1 Bayer Leverkusen

The first half formations.

Bayer Leverkusen gave themselves a four-point cushion in the Champions League spots after capitalising on a Mainz mistake to win a game that looked certain to end goalless.

Both sides were in decent runs of form coming into this game, and won emphatically in the last round of fixtures: Mainz 4-2 at Hamburg, Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 at home to lowly Wolfsburg. The table made happy reading for fans of either side, with the hosts sat in fifth spot, knowing a win would see them leapfrog Bayern into fourth, and the visitors sat two points clear in second, knowing a win would take them to within nine points of league leaders Dortmund. Thomas Tuchel, linked this week with a move to Leverkusen should Jupp Heynckes depart for Bayern Munich, made three changes to his side, bringing in goalkeeper Christian Wetklo, and new full-backs. He retained the diamond midfield and wide forwards system that worked superbly in the second half against Hamburg last weekend. As for Bayer, who lost 3-2 at home to Villareal in the Europa League midweek, there was finally room for Michael Ballack in the starting XI. Arturo Vidal also returned, and with Ballack and Lars Bender behind him, started in a more advanced midfield role behind Stefan Kieβling. Against Hannover (2-0) & Nuremberg (1-0) on matchdays 20 & 21, Ballack & Rolfes were used behind Vidal to superb effect, but this was the first time this particular trio had started a game together. The talismanic Rolfes (and his Mainz counterpart Lewis Holtby) was on the bench. Continue reading

Bayer Leverkusen 4-2 Stuttgart

The first-half formations.

Bayer Leverkusen defeated relegation-haunted Stuttgart in a hugely entertaining game at the BayArena. Stuttgart will feel hard done by after putting in a positive performance both in and out of possession, but Leverkusen’s quality in front of goal helped them seal all three points.

Both sides came into this game on the back of midweek Europa League dates (Bayer beating Metalist Kharkiv 4-0, Stuttgart going down 2-1 to Benfica), and entirely different Bundesliga narratives. For Die Roten, a win wouldn’t lift them up the table, but would take them to within a point of the team perched just above the relegation zone, Wolfsburg. Leverkusen knew a draw would be enough to lift them above Bayern and back into second spot. However, for a team looking so well placed to finish in the top three, the Werkself hadn’t been great at home, recording just four wins at the BayArena all season. Luckily for Jupp Heynckes’s side (who at this point last season, were still unbeaten), Stuttgart had only triumphed once on the road all season. Saying that, that 3-2 win had come in their last away game at Gladbach. But, saying that, Gladbach are bottom, had been beaten 7-0 by Stuttgart earlier on in the season, and Leverkusen cruised to a 4-1 victory against their guests for this game at the Mercedes-Benz Arena back in September. Bruno Labbadia’s side were missing a whole host of players too, including key attackers Ciprian Marica and Pavel Pogrebnyak, midfielder Christian Gentner, and flying full-back Arthur Boka. The former Hamburg and Leverkusen coach’s only attacking option on the bench was 22-year-old Sven Schipplock – a tall, weighty striker, but one with only five first-team appearances under his belt, four shots, and no goals. Leverkusen, on the other hand, were only shorn of Tranquillo Barnetta: Michael Ballack and Erin Derdiyok had to settle for places on the bench. Continue reading