FEATURE | Class prevails as Bayer Leverkusen’s title challenge stays alive

Union Berlin 2-3 Bayer Leverkusen- Stadion An der Alten Försterei – Matthew Marshall

Bayer Leverkusen beat Union Berlin 3-2 after a thrilling finale at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei. The hosts went into the break 1-1 after dominating the first half, Marius Bülter’s stunner restoring parity after Moussa Diaby put the visitors in front before Karim Bellarabi scored the winner in added time.

Dominant first half display

It was one-way traffic early on as Robert Andrich fed Sebastian Andersson who fired wide. Union went ahead in the 7th minute, Marius Bülter’s cross taking a touch off Yunus Malli before Christian Gentner slammed an unstoppable shot past Lukás Hrádecky.

Bayer Leverkusen were under heavy pressure and unable to test Rafal Gikiewicz. In the 22nd minute and out of nowhere a long ball from Jonathan Tah found Lars Bender, he headed it into the path of Kai Havertz who made no mistake with a deft finish. Andersson had two more chances to put his side in front but couldn’t convert.

Second half comes alive

The second half started with Yunus Malli racing through and Wendell deflecting his shot wide. The game was stopped due to excessive pyrotechnics from the Leverkusen ultras and there were no more clear-cut chances until Andrich shot wide in the 75th minute.

Space opened up however and it was Leverkusen who took advantage in the 83rd minute. Charles Aranguiz found Kevin Volland who released Moussa Diaby, the young Frenchman finishing past an onrushing Rafal Gikiewicz and silencing the home crowd.

Their voice returned in earnest four minutes later. Jonathan Tah misjudged a long ball that fell to Sebastian Polter, he found Marius Bülter who stepped inside Lars Bender and fired a fantastic finish into the top corner.

Referee Harm Osmers signalled seven minutes of added time due to the pyrotechnic delay and it was Leverkusen who profited. Substitute Karim Bellarabi was tormenting Union’s defence and he got it done in the 94th minute, beating Keven Schlotterbeck and squeezing the ball home off Gikiewicz’s hand.

Gikiewicz had the final chance of the game from a Union Berlin corner, but Hrádecky made a vital save as the Werkself held on for the win.

Smart moves from Peter Bosz

Peter Bosz had to do something at the break and he responded by bringing on Charles Aránguiz and Moussa Diaby for Mitchell Weiser and Leon Bailey. Aránguiz added more steel to central midfield and was involved in Diaby’s goal while Bellarabi produced the winner off the bench.

Bellarabi’s introduction allowed Kai Havertz to move from a wide right position and get on the ball in central areas where he caused havoc. The strength of Leverkusen’s squad was on full display in Berlin as all three substitutions made decisive contributions.

Bayer Leverkusen sporting director Simon Rolfes described the match well: “It was a long and tough battle. The ball was in the air a lot and we had little control of the game. Union scored two wonder goals. But the team showed the right reaction and quick passes led to the two crucial goals. There aren’t always great wins like last week and sometimes you just have to win as best you can”.

In the end, it was class that prevailed

When the game opened up it was always going to be danger time for the hosts, with the speed and skill of Leverkusen’s attackers troubling a tiring Union defence. Urs Fischer lamented a lack of efficiency: “Today was the difference that Leverkusen were efficient. We weren’t. The goals conceded, we need to check ourselves again to learn. We started brilliantly, attacked from the start. We had our chances. In the end, lacked a little efficiency.”

Kevin Volland acknowledged the difficulties his team suffered in Berlin: “In the end, we had to take on a fight today and we did that. Union Berlin are very uncomfortable opponents.” Lars Bender offered similar sentiments: “That was a hard fought, difficult win. Union put us under an extreme amount of pressure and worked a lot with long balls. A lot of teams have stumbled here because of that.”

Union Berlin have no business competing with Bayer Leverkusen in terms of budget. Their effort and desire went close to producing a result and they deserved more from this game, but in the end, it was class that prevailed.

Are Leverkusen title contenders?

Could the Bundesliga title race have another challenger? Bosz’s side have produced two impressive results with the victory in Berlin followed an electrifying 4-3 home win against Borussia Dortmund.

It is unlikely due to their defensive issues, inconsistency, a congested fixture list and Bayern Munich, but their recent successes shows they are not far away from competing at the top of the table. Some tough decisions need to be made with the squad.

High profile assets including Jonathan Tah and Leon Bailey may have reached their peak and it’s going to take more time for Bosz to integrate new signings Edmond Tapsoba and Exequiel Palacios.

Union have come a long way

Union Berlin were soundly beaten 2-0 at Leverkusen on Matchday 5 where they were unable to register a shot on target and struggled to get out of their own half. Nine of Urs Fischer’s starting XI that day began the match in Berlin with the turnaround proving a few things.

  • Union have come a long way this season and Fischer deserves a lot of credit. The back three formation has worked well for the capital club with the production from Sebastian Andersson and Marius Bülter beyond expectation.
  • Home form is key. It was evident last season when Union lost only once at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei and has continued into their debut Bundesliga campaign. The 3-0 win against Borussia Dortmund was followed by home wins against Freiburg, Hertha Berlin, Borussia Mönchengladbach, Köln and Augsburg.

Impressive club

German football deservedly receives plenty of plaudits and the stadium experience at the Stadion An der Alten Försterei is one of the reasons why. Much has been said about Union that can be found elsewhere, but the best thing to do is experience the atmosphere firsthand to understand why the Bundesliga is richer with the inclusion of Union Berlin.


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