Bayer Leverkusen ran out 4-1 winners against Eintracht Frankfurt at the BayArena to move five points clear in fourth spot. Julian Brandt’s opener was cancelled out by Marco Fabian as the sides went into the break tied at 1-1, but Heiko Herrlich’s half-time tactical switches turned the tide with Kevin Volland bagging a hat-trick as the Werkself cruised to a comfortable victory.
With Bernd Leno and the Bender brothers all available, Herrlich made just one change with Panagiotis Retsos replacing the injured Wendell. Jonathan Tah picked up an injury in the warm up and was replaced by Benjamin Henrichs. Niko Kovac made one change to his Eintracht side with Gelson Fernandes coming in for Luka Jovic.
Marius Wolf was looking to get into the game early on and had a shot blocked before Lars Bender picked up a booking for a foul on the dangerous Jetro Willems. The visitors were showing plenty of patience with the ball as they prised the Leverkusen defence for openings.
Nice build up play from Julian Brandt and Henrichs resulted in Kevin Volland shooting wide, Brandt and Lars Bender combining soon after to put Volland through for a great chance but he scuffed a tame effort straight at Lukas Hradecky. Leverkusen soon took the lead however, Volland’s cross was cleared to Kai Havertz with the 18-year-old floating a ball to Brandt who looped a header over Hradecky in off the post.
The home side had little time to celebrate however as Eintracht soon equalised. Wolf won the ball in his own half and nutmegged Julian Baumgartlinger, combining with Kevin Prince-Boateng before sliding the ball through to an unmarked Marco Fabian. The Mexican had plenty of time with his shot taking a deflection off Bernd Leno into the bottom corner.
Jetro Willems, Jonathan de Guzman and Wolf were causing Leverkusen plenty of problems with Fabian finding open space between the lines. Lars Bender long balls were the main outlet for the home side with Brandt sending a shot wide as the teams went into half-time with the score locked at 1-1.
Herrlich made a tactical switch at the break with Leon Bailey moving to the right wing Henrichs switching to left back, abandoning the three-man defence in favour of a 4-2-3-1 formation.
It almost paid immediate dividends as Bailey was afforded too much space outside the area with his shot from distance beating Hradecky but not the crossbar, Charles Aranguiz heading the rebound over. Volland was close to connecting with a Bailey free kick as the home side began to dominate proceedings.
Volland outmuscled Hasebe to get onto a deflected Havertz through ball and smashed a shot at Hradecky who made a good save. Kovac brought on Sebastien Haller for Prince-Boateng in an attempt to make something happen up front for the visitors before some great work from Wolf resulted in a Fabian shot which was blocked.
The threat was only temporary however as Leverkusen soon got back on the front foot. Timothy Chandler replaced a tiring Jetro Willems as Leverkusen retook the lead. Baumgartliner played in Havertz who produced a lovely flick to put Volland through on goal, the striker with a classy finish past Hradecky despite Falette tugging his jersey.
Leon Bailey was replaced by Karim Bellarabi who immediately made an impact as the home side went 3-1 up. Leverkusen won the ball in Eintracht’s half, Brandt with a through ball to Bellarabi who rolled it across the box for Volland to tap into an open net.
Luka Jovic replaced Marius Wolf but it was too little too late for the visitors. Kovac’s switch to a back four brought Falette infield but he was being run ragged and picked up a booking for a foul on Bellarabi. Herrlich killed some minutes with Tin Jedvaj on for Lars Bender and Dominik Kohr replacing Kai Havertz but Leverkusen still had time to make it four.
Henrichs won the ball on the left wing, Brandt found Kohr who released Bellarabi yet again, the winger unselfishly cutting it back to Volland who completed his hat-trick with another tap into an empty net. It was too easy for the home side as the visitors and Falette in particular fell apart.
Credit must go to Herrlich whose half-time tactical switches turned the match in Leverkusen’s favour. Bailey became influential and despite Eintracht’s wing-backs Willems and da Costa afforded more space, Leverkusen’s attack was much more potent with Volland the beneficiary.
Julian Brandt continued where he left off against Leipzig with another strong performance, while Kai Havertz was very good as he celebrated becoming the youngest player to register 50 Bundesliga appearances with two assists. Die Werkself took a huge step towards Champions League football next season and are in strong shape before Bayern Munich come to town for the DFB-Pokal semi-final on Tuesday.
Eintracht Frankfurt did well in the first half but came undone after the break. Kovac’s decision to play Kevin Prince-Boateng up front and sacrifice Luka Jovic for Gelson Fernandes left his side short of attacking threat as Eintracht’s Champions League ambitions took a big dent. The Eagles travel back up the Rhine on Tuesday to face Schalke in the DFB-Pokal semi-finals.
By Matthew Marshall.