Sven Bender said after the game: "I couldn't really see the incident for the penalty. But we have to accept the decision at the end of the day. Going behind didn't make the game any easier for us. We definitely didn't produce our best performance. I think the 1-1 draw is a fair result and we didn't deserve more than a point this time."
Kai Havertz, who missed the last two games in the league against Bayern and in the DFB Cup against Saarbrücken due to muscle problems, was available again for the Werkself at Schalke. Coach Peter Bosz had to manage without captain Lars Bender (foot), Karim Bellarabi (thigh) and the ill Exequiel Palacios plus Leon Bailey. His absence however was due to a positive reason: The Jamaican became a father in the morning. There were two changes for the Black and Reds to the starting line-up in Tuesday's cup tie at Saarbrücken: Havertz replaced Florian Wirtz and Nadiem Amiri came in for Paulinho.
The situation in the race for a Champions League finish was clear after the 2-1 defeat for Borussia Mönchengladbach in the top game at FC Bayern last night: A draw at Schalke would be enough to take Bayer 04 up to fourth place in the table and a win in Gelsenkirchen would see the Werkself establish a three-point lead over Borussia. The Royal Blues had the first chance of the game and it was a good one: A powerful long-range effort from Weston McKennie rebounded off Lukas Hradecky but Ahmed Kutucu was unable to control the second attempt and his shot went wide of the target (2'). That was a timely warning.
Schalke fielded a very young team including the U19 captain and Bundesliga debutant Can Bozdogan but in the opening stages they played with great courage and aggression. The Werkself had to cope with the enormous physical determination of the hosts that was embodied by McKennie in defensive midfield with some tough tackling. That meant Bayer 04 had less possession and control than normal in the first 15 minutes. The first threat on goal from Leverkusen came after 20 minutes: A Mitchell Weiser cross from the right to the far post found Lucas Alario but his goal bound header was turned over the bar by Schalke defender Jonjoe Kenny (22').
Bayer 04 made life difficult for themselves due to some careless play in build-ups. And Schalke stuck to their task: Hradecky parried a powerful shot from Caliguiri and the follow-up shot from Nassim Boujellab was cleared by Sven Bender with his head (27'). At the other end, the busy Weiser cleverly picked out Havertz on the right but his pull back from the by-line was was not met by Alario with Moussa Diaby ready to shoot behind him (33'). Shortly after that, Alario did head the ball past Alexander Nübel from an Amiri free kick but the Argentinian was in an offside position (40'). A Havertz header from another Amiri free kick was comfortably saved by Nübel (45'). Then came the half-time whistle after 45 minutes that saw a passionate Schalke side make life very difficult for a sometimes passive Werkself eleven.
Bayer 04 started the second half with the same players – but there was a recognisable increase in desire. But then came an early setback for the Werkself: Everybody thought Edmond Tapsoba had cleared a cross from Kenny with his head. But Guido Perl intervened from the VAR studio in Cologne, referee Daniel Siebert took another look at the incident and decided to award a penalty for handball much to the disgust of the Leverkusen players. A highly contentious and questionable decision. Caliguiri gave Hradecky no chance from the penalty spot – 1-0 for Schalke (50').
Bayer 04 quickly got on the front foot. A shot from Amiri was turned over the bar by Nübel (52'), a header from Alario went inches wide of the post (55'). Shortly after that, Alario was shown a yellow card in a mass confrontation – his fifth that means he will miss Wednesday's derby against FC Köln. The game became increasingly physical. There was excitement when a header from Alario clearly hit Boujellab's hand – but this time there was no whistle and no VAR (63').
Bosz made his first changes bringing on Kevin Volland and Daley Sinkgraven in place of Havertz and Amiri (70'). The first effort from Volland failed to test Nübel (71'), and when Diaby set up an Alario shot Ozan Kabak was on hand to clear (72'). Paulinho was then brought on as an additional striker in place of Demirbay (75') and the Brazilian made his presence felt straightaway. Bayer 04 pressed the opposition back deep into their own half as they sought to find a breakthrough. With success: After impressively winning the ball, Wendell squared the ball for Paulinho, under pressure from Miranda, and the ball ended up in the back of the net – 1-1 (81'). In the end, the strike was an own goal from Miranda.
The Werkself wanted more. A low shot from Charles Aránguiz flew just wide of the target (85'), and then the Chilean was replaced by Julian Baumgartlinger. Schalke were on the ropes. Sven Bender was unable to control a header (87'). There were six minutes of added time. And in the last few seconds, Schalke had the chance to take all three points but Hradecky pulled off a fantastic save to keep out a header from Michael Gregoritsch (90+6') – that was a close thing!
In another double fixture week, the Werkself are next in action in the derby against FC Köln on matchday 32. The kick-off at the BayArena is on Wednesday, 17 June, at 20.30 CET.
Schalke 04: Nübel – Kenny, Kabak, Oczipka, Miranda – Caligiuri (Hofmann 88'), Schöpf, McKennie, Bozdogan (Becker 69') – Kutucu (Gregoritsch 73'), Boujellab (Mercan 88')
Bayer 04: Hradecky – Weiser, Tapsoba, S. Bender, Wendell – Aránguiz (Baumgartlinger 85'), Demirbay (Paulinho 75') – Havertz (Volland 70'), Amiri (Sinkgraven 70'), Diaby – Alario
Goals: 1-0 Caligiuri (50’ pen.), 1-1 Miranda o.g. (81’)
Referee: Daniel Siebert (Berlin)
Booked: Kabak, Miranda, Caligiuri, McKennie – Alario
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