Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 Hamburg

BAYER Leverkusen cruised to a victory over Hamburg this afternoon in the final round of 1. Bundesliga fixtures before the winter break. Goals from Stefan Kießling and André Schürrle gave the second-placed home side a deserved 2-0 half-time lead against their visitors, who struggled to get into the game. The away side’s players weren’t helped by the system being deployed by their coach, Thorsten Fink, with Leverkusen’s coaching duo Sascha Lewandowski and Sami Hyypiä playing an extra man in midfield, and getting their players to pressurise the right areas of the pitch.

Hamburg improved slightly at the start of the second half, but still failed to test the home side’s goalkeeper, Bernd Leno. They clearly missed the talismanic, creative presence of club poster-boy Rafael van der Vaart, but also looked tired both mentally and physically – last weekend’s trip to Brazil for a friendly game against Grêmio surely didn’t help Fink and the players’ preparation. With just under 25 minutes to play, Kieβling – the division’s top-scorer – wrapped up the points, and thereafter, the game petered to a close. Although Bayern Munich have run away with the title already, this afternoon’s three points secured Leverkusen’s grip on a Champions League qualification spot, and it’ll take some doing for two teams to knock them out of the top three after the break. Hamburg, meanwhile, end the first half of the season in the top half of the table, and although today’s loss will have left a sour taste in the mouths of everyone associated with the club, they still have a great chance of returning to the Europa League next season.

Match preview here.

The formations that started the match

Bayer Leverkusen (4-3-3, from right to left): Leno; Hajime Hosogai, Philipp Wollscheid, Ömer Toprak, Sebastian Boenisch; Lars Bender, Simon Rolfes, Jens Hegeler; Gonzalo Castro, Kießling, Schürrle

Hamburg (4-4-2 diamond, from right to left): René Adler; Dennis Diekmeier, Michael Mancienne, Heiko Westermann, Lam Zhi Gan; Milan Badelj; Per Ciljan Skjelbred, Dennis Aogo; Tolgay Arslan; Artjoms Rudņevs, Heung-Min Son Continue reading

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Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Greuther Fürth

SIDNEY Sam came off the bench to score twice and lead Bayer Leverkusen to victory over 2011/12 2. Bundesliga champions Greuther Fürth at the BayArena. The newly-promoted side’s defensive set-up and tactics nullified the hosts in the first-half, and right-back Bernd Nehrig even had two great chances right on half-time to hand the visitors a shock lead. However, Leverkusen’s joint coaching duo Sascha Lewandowski and Sami Hyypiä made a wise choice in replacing Karim Bellarabi with Sam for the second-half, as the former Hamburg attacker’s coolness in front of goal ensured that the home side eventually cruised to victory.

Fürth’s fourth loss of the season wasn’t for want of trying, but coach Mike Büskens’ side lack experience and creativity in midfield, and quality in attack. This latest loss means the Franconian minnows will end matchday six second-bottom of 1. Bundesliga unless Wolfsburg beat Mainz by four or more goals tomorrow afternoon. Leverkusen, meanwhile, are now up to sixth spot in the table, although Dortmund will leapfrog them if they Borussia Mönchengladbach this evening.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Bayer Leverkusen (4-3-2-1, from right to left): Bernd Leno; Daniel Carvajal, Philipp Wollscheid, Ömer Toprak, Michal Kadlec; Lars Bender, Simon Rolfes, Gonzalo Castro; Bellarabi, André Schürrle; Stefan Kießling

Greuther Fürth (4-1-2-1-2, from right to left): Max Grün; Nehrig, Thomas Kleine, Mergim Mavraj, Heinrich Schmidtgal; Milorad Peković; Edgar Prib, Stephan Fürstner; Thanos Petsos; Sercan Sararer, Edú Continue reading

Hoffenheim 2-2 Augsburg

Augsburg remain rooted in the relegation zone after failing to overcome an alarmingly poor Hoffenheim side. Although the hosts played some good stuff to get their noses in front for about 20 minutes at the start of the second-half, they were lucky to go in with the score at 1-1 at the break after putting in a 45-minute performance that lacked concentration, creativity, movement and fight. Augsburg deservedly took the lead shortly after the 30-minute mark, before a mistake allowed Hoffenheim to grab an equalizer just under ten minutes later. After then falling behind early in the second half, Augsburg again grew into a position of command, but could only manage one more goal, albeit an equalizer.

The Bavarian side’s coach Jos Luhukay will be annoyed at his side’s inability to take their chances at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena (following on from last weekend’s 2-2 draw at home to Kaiserslautern, in which they also missed some glorious opportunities), although his mirth will be nothing compared to Hoffenheim coach Holger Stanislawski’s. Despite dominating, Augsburg showed here that they are a limited side – one that makes mistakes at the back, takes a while to form their off-ball shape, and lacks the ability to make the most of possession in the final-third. Thus, the fact that Hoffenheim grabbed a barely deserved draw certainly won’t be enough to satisfy the St Pauli legend. His side do stay in eighth place, but they are yet to win in 2012, and could still end the weekend four points clear of the drop-zone.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Hoffenheim (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Tom Starke; Andreas Beck, Jannik Vestergaard, Marvin Compper, Fabian Johnson; Daniel Williams, Sejad Salihović; Peniel Mlapa, Roberto Firmino, Ryan Babel; Knowledge Musona

Augsburg (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Simon Jentzsch; Paul Verhaegh, Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker, Sebastian Langkamp, Marcel de Jong; Hajime Hosogai, Daniel Baier; Marcel Ndjeng, Torsten Oehrl, Tobias Werner; Sascha Mölders Continue reading