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FEATURE | #40JahreBundesliga – Bayer Leverkusen’s hopes of Champions League football hangs in the balance

“We’re playing for the top four, clearly. We want to play in the Champions League. The chance is there and we want to take it,” said Bayer Leverkusen defender Jonathan Tah at the final whistle on Saturday. His statement seems to be the consensus around the football club at the minute with a return to Champions League football highly possible, dependent on other results heading into the final round of fixtures.

Peter Bosz has got Leverkusen playing a brand of football that is above the rest, barring Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. The Dutchman has taken Die Werkself from eighth place and 10 points behind to joint fourth while his best display as head coach came last week, when Bayer Leverkusen put six past Eintracht Frankfurt.

Hosting Schalke on Saturday, Bayer Leverkusen once again dominated possession in the first half, Kai Havertz giving his side a 1-0 lead for the eighth time this season. At just 19-years-old, the Germany international has scored 16 Bundesliga goals, contributing to 30 percent of Bayer Leverkusen’s league goals this season.

Bild’s headline a couple of weeks ago claimed that ‘Havertz can walk on water’ and it’s probably not far from the truth. At a young age, Havertz has already achieved a lot with more than 100 senior appearances, including three national team caps, having become Bayer’s youngest ever Bundesliga player and the club’s youngest ever goalscorer before becoming the youngest in the league’s history to reach 50 games. His latest feat equalling a 51-year-old record, becoming the second teenager to score 16 goals in a season. And it’s probably wise to put money on him breaking that record too, when Bayer travel to Hertha BSC next weekend.

It perhaps should have been a different story for Bayer Leverkusen though against what was a poor Schalke performance. The hosts could easily have gained three points and put them in pole position for the Champions League but on another day the result could have swung the other way.

Schalke came out of the break on top, equalising after 93 seconds through Guido Burgstaller while a foul in the area on Weston McKennie resulted in a penalty. Experienced referee Deniz Aytekin had played on but a word in his ear from the VAR told him to take a look. Penalty awarded. Lukas Hradecky denied Daniel Caligiuri, keeping Bayer in the game. Schalke were then awarded another penalty but after another consultation with the VAR, Aytekin overturned his decision.

A message from Cologne, where the VAR headquarters is located: “Forget it Deniz, there’s nothing!” Much to the relief of the Bayer Leverkusen supporters. But a criticism for the technology is the length of time it takes to once again make a decision. An age seemed to have pass before Aytekin made his final decision. It’s certainly something they need to work on.

But as the curtains come down on another season at the BayArena, Bayer Leverkusen celebrated 40 years in the Bundesliga. Greats such as, Dimitar Berbatov, Bum-Kun Cha, Christoph Daum, Simon Rolfes, Dieter Herzog, Juan, Stefan Kießling, Bernd Schneider, Ze Roberto and Rudi Völler, amongst others, all took part in a pre-match ceremony, looking back on their years at Bayer Leverkusen.

It’s a club with great pedigree and one that certainly deserves Champions League football, but whether or not that happens, fans will have to play the waiting game.

By Daniel Pinder.

 

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