"It was a very physical approach from Freiburg and sometimes a bit over the top," said Werkself coach Heiko Herrlich after the final whistle. Julian Brandt took the following position: "It was a hard-fought game. We came up against exactly what we expected. Freiburg deserved a point in the end just as we did."
Freiburg were unbeaten in the previous eight games and the Werkself had only lost one of the last 15 Bundesliga matches – Heiko Herrlich declared the game to be an "absolute top match" given the form of the two teams and Julian Brandt saw it as "one of the hardest games of the season." Bayer 04 started with four changes to the previous line-up: Benny Henrichs played at right back in place of the skipper Lars Bender, Dominik Kohr came into holding midfield for the sidelined Julian Baumgartlinger, Kai Havertz and Karim Bellarabi replaced Julian Brandt and Kevin Volland. Heiko Herrlich stuck to his promise of shuffling his pack of 16 or 17 regular starters – given the busy period of fixtures with next challenge in the DFB Cup against Werder Bremen on Tuesday. Tin Jedvaj and Joel Pohjanpalo were also in the Werkself squad that again played in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
The hosts had the first two chances of the game on five minutes: However, Bernd Leno was alert to save with his feet from a Nils Petersen shot to the near post and then kept out the follow-up effort from Janik Haberer. The Werkself were soon up to speed going forwards: A Bellarabi cross from the right was met by Alario but his header came back off the inside of the post on eight minutes – just inches away from taking the lead. Bayer 04 were on the front foot from the start and quickly put the opposition under pressure with Alario and Havertz working hard in the build-up play. At the other end, with Germany coach Joachim Löw looking on, Leno was on his toes as he succeeded again in saving a left-foot shot from Tim Kleindienst with his feet on 18 minutes.
Freiburg were very physical and sometimes overzealous in challenges, which resulted in four yellow cards being shown in the first half with Wendell, Leon Bailey and Bellarabi on the receiving end of the tackles. A fine pass from Henrichs found the Jamaican but his drilled effort just after the half-hour mark flew wide of the top corner. It was much closer two minutes later when a Bailey header from an excellent Havertz cross went just over the bar. The two sides were level at 0-0 at the break. Bayer 04 had more of the game but Freiburg also produced good moves when they pressed forward with determination.
And the second half began with a double chance for the hosts: Lucas Höler failed to connect with a cross from Amir Abrashi and the impressive Tah succeeded in blocking the follow-up shot from Haberer on 50 minutes. This time, the Werkself counter-attacked straight away and were on the verge of scoring but the keeper Alexander Schwolow was able to hold onto a well-hit but too straight effort from Kohr on 52 minutes. The first substitution on 65 minutes saw Brandt replace Bailey on the wing. Volland later came on for Kohr with twelve minutes to play– Herrlich saw an increased threat and Havertz played deeper.
It remained a closely-fought encounter but with few real chances in the second half. Pohjanpalo came on for Bellarabi in the closing stages. Freiburg increased the yellow card count in the final minutes to seven. The match ended all square at 0-0 – this was the first time in 25 Bundesliga games that the Werkself have failed to find the back of the net. In a repeat of last weekend's game, the central defensive axis of Bernd Leno, Jonathan Tah, Sven Bender and Charles Aránguiz did an excellent job.
The match in Freiburg marked the start of a busy run of games for the Werkself. The next fixture is the quarter-final tie of the DFB Cup at the BayArena on Tuesday 6 February (kick-off 20.45 CET) followed by a home game against Hertha Berlin on Bundesliga matchday 22 on Saturday 10 February (15.30 CET).
SC Freiburg: Schwolow – Kübler, Söyüncü, Gulde, Günter – Koch, Abrashi – Haberer (Höfler 88'), Höler (Kath 69') – Petersen, Kleindienst
Bayer 04: Leno – Henrichs, Tah, S. Bender, Wendell – Aránguiz, Kohr (Volland 78') – Bellarabi (Pohjanpalo 85'), Havertz, Bailey (Brandt 65') – Alario
Referee: Dr. Kampka (Mainz)
Booked: Günter, Kübler, Abrashi, Kleindienst, Haberer, Höfler, Kath – Kohr
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