Matthew Marshall, RheinEnergieStadion – With back to back wins in the Bundesliga, Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen side move clear of the relegation zone after a Rheinderby win against nearby FC Köln.
Steffen Baumgart’s FC Köln were the better team in the opening stages and created the first chance in the 8th minute. A well worked move down the left wing resulted in a chance for Sargis Adamyan, his shot tipped over the bar by Lukas Hrádecký.
Ellyes Skhiri was seeing plenty of the ball, the midfielder regularly dropping deep to instigate attacks and getting forward to instigate attacks but the breakthrough came for the hosts in the 30th minute with another slick sequence down their left side. Florian Kainz released Adamyan once again, his deep cross picking out Benno Schmitz who chested the ball into position before firing a volley past Hrádecký.
Edmond Tapsoba headed Callum Hudson-Odoi’s free kick wide on the stroke of half-time, the closest Bayer Leverkusen came to testing Marvin Schwäbe in the opening 45 minutes.
Steffen Baumgart’s side started the second half on fire. Hrádecký tipped Jonas Hector’s shot off the bar, turned Adamyan’s effort wide and made a comfortable save to deny Linton Maina. With his side still unable to click in attack, Xabi Alonso made a triple switch in the 59th minute when Odilon Kossounou, Nadiem Amiri and Amine Adli replaced Jonathan Tah, Exequiel Palacios and Adam Hlozek.
Alonso’s changes had an immediate impact as the Werkself turned up the heat on Köln’s increasingly busy defence. Bayer Leverkusen were rewarded with an equaliser in the 65th minute. Nikola Soldo fouled Amiri on the edge of the box, the attacking midfielder stepping up and seeing his free kick take a big deflection and sail past a stranded Schwäbe.
Six minutes later Leverkusen were in the lead. Moussa Diaby picked up the ball in his own half and released Jeremie Frimpong, Diaby continuing his run into the box where Frimpong returned the favour for a simple finish.
Baumgart made changes up front with Linton Maina and Florian Kainz making way for Jan Thielmann and Steffen Tigges. Tigges had a great chance to equalise in front of the Südkurve, meeting Schindler’s cross and heading off the bar. It was the final chance for the Billy Goats who have now failed to keep a clean sheet in 10 matches, conceding 19 goals in their last seven games.
The long winter break with be welcome relief for Baumgart and his side who have been battling hard on two fronts. It’s also been a bumpy road for Alonso after his first match in charge resulted in a 4-0 win against Schalke. They went six matches without a win before exploding to record a 5-0 victory against Union Berlin.
The win in Köln made it the first time the Werkself have recorded back to back wins this campaign, an incredible run for a team that finished third in the Bundesliga last season, 13 points behind champions Bayern Munich.
It was far from convincing and there is clearly a long way to go, the six points gained in four days welcome relief for a club who can finally pull away from a relegation battle they have no business contesting.