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

Hannover 2-1 Stuttgart

The first-half formations.

A brace from Didier Ya Konan punished two defensive mistakes as Hannover moved into second place. As a result, Stuttgart will be stuck in the bottom three over the winter break.

Stuttgart came into this game as the only team who hadn’t won away from home in the Bundesliga this season, and knew that a win wouldn’t even be enough to lift them out of the drop zone. Hannover, on the other hand, went into the game knowing that a win would give them a new club record of five consecutive victories – and, as mentioned in the introduction, a win would also lift them up to second place. That’s Hannover. In second place. In December. Oh, and they’d be taking that position from Mainz. Yes, Mainz.

Unsurprisingly, it was the home side who started like the team gunning for a place on the podium. They pressed high and hard from the off, and Konstantin Rausch instantly forced a mistake from Phillipp Degen as Stuttgart enacted some of the laziest opposition-sucking keep-ball you’ll ever see.

Mirko Slomka kept his 4-4-2 close together even when they were pressing, and this ensured that Stuttgart’s banks were forced to stand further back in order to get a bit of space.

In terms of attacking, the away side were forced to use the flanks. Arthur Boka, Timo Gebhart and Christian Gentner linked up and carried the ball in turns down the left, looking to feed the last shoulder-lurking figure of Cacau. Hannover were also intent on attacking down the left, but they were only able to surge forward on the break. A better footballing side would have been more comfortable with using the ball to prise open the Stuttgart defence, but Hannover aren’t a technically-gifted unit, and this allowed Stuttgart to creep higher as the game went on and keep them penned in and dawdling. Continue reading