Bayer Leverkusen consolidated their spot in the top four with a 4-1 victory against Eintracht Frankfurt. Goals to Julian Brandt and Marco Fabian saw the sides go into the break tied at 1-1, Kevin Volland scoring a second-half hat-trick as the Werkself ran out comfortable winners. Five key points from an entertaining encounter at the BayArena.
Herrlich’s half time adjustments turns the tide
The first half was a tight affair with both sides basically cancelling each other out with similar formations. The battle of the wing-backs was a key feature with Jetro Willems getting the better of Benjamin Henrichs early on, Danny da Costa and Leon Bailey going at it on the opposite flank.
Heiko Herrlich decided to make personnel and formation changes at the break which was a large reason why his side were able to dominate the second half and cruise to victory. Henrichs switched to left-back with Bailey moving to the right wing in a 4-2-3-1 formation and the benefits were immediately clear.
Bailey was finding open space and rattled the crossbar with a shot from distance, as the attacking quartet of Bailey, Brandt, Kai Havertz and Volland were able to keep the Eintracht defence firmly on the back foot. Niko Kovac and his players had few answers as their afternoon went from bad to worse with each Volland goal, the striker securing his hat-trick in the final 20 minutes of the match.
Brandt continues his hot form
Julian Brandt was excellent in Leverkusen’s 4-1 victory at RC Leipzig on Monday evening and he continued his fine form here. At the heart of every positive move for the home side early on, the 21-year-old opened the scoring with a looping header and was a constant danger throughout.
Bailey’s move to the right wing allowed Brandt to create havoc on the left as the Werkself pinned the visitors in their own half. Brandt’s technical ability, movement and vision are at a very high level and supporters should be jumping for joy about his recent contract extension.
Havertz celebrates in style
Bayer Leverkusen’s youngest top-flight player broke another record as he became the youngest player in Bundesliga history to make 50 appearances. The 18-year-old was excellent against Eintracht, providing the assist for Brandt’s opener with a pinpoint cross and providing a classy flick to send Volland through as the striker made it 2-1.
Herrlich has been patient with Havertz at times this season, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the gifted playmaker should be one of the first name on his team sheet. As Havertz continues to build an understanding with Bailey, Brandt and Volland, we are likely to see more outstanding performances from the promising youngster.
Herrlich brought Havertz off for Dominik Kohr in the final minutes which allowed the BayArena faithful to express their appreciation. There are likely to be many more opportunities for Havertz to feel the love as he grows in experience and confidence.
Volland eventually comes good
Kevin Volland had some great opportunities to score but it wasn’t looking like it would be his day. The striker had two good opportunities in the first half with one shot wide and one a scuffed effort at Lukas Hradecky. In the second half Volland was inches away from connecting with Bailey’s free kick, then held off Hasebe before unleashing a powerful shot that Hradecky saved.
Volland wouldn’t be denied however and his persistence finally paid off. His first was courtesy of Havertz as Volland beat the offside trap and Simon Falette tugging his jersey to finish past Hradecky. His second came six minutes later as substitute Karim Bellarabi put it on a plate, Volland’s hat-trick secured minutes from time as Bellarabi provided an almost identical assist for another tap in.
Volland was another player to benefit from Herrlich’s half-time switches and he punished a floundering Falette on numerous occasions after Kovac switched to a back four. The 25-year-old striker does a lot of work that goes unnoticed but will gain a lot of confidence from this performance.
Wolf justifies the hype
I was excited to see Marius Wolf in the flesh for the first time and it’s safe to say he exceeded my expectations. Quite how the 22-year-old was allowed to leave Hannover 96 for just €500,000 remains one of the more peculiar deals in football history. Wolf’s stock is rapidly rising and he has become one of the most important players for the Eagles.
Wolf was instrumental in Eintracht’s equaliser, winning the ball in his own half before nutmegging Julian Baumgartlinger, then combining with Kevin Prince-Boateng before sliding a perfect through ball to to an unmarked Marco Fabian who made it 1-1. What was more impressive however were his off the ball contributions.
There was an instance where Boateng was visibly unhappy with Hradecky but Wolf reacted by positive applause in an attempt to encourage the keeper. After Wolf produced another positive run down the right wing in front of the visiting supporters, he roused them into action which provided his team with a timely boost.
I could have mentioned Wolf’s movement, trickery, technical ability, versatility and positioning which are all at very high levels, but sometimes it’s the other, unheralded abilities that make a player invaluable to the team. Not many had heard of Wolf at the beginning of the season, but it’s easy to imagine the scouts being sent to monitor his continuing development.
By Matthew Marshall.