The captain was suitably fed up after the final whistle. It's an extremely bitter day for us. if you miss that many chances you don't deserve to win. If Bayern talk about weak finishing after the Real game then there can be no words to describe our lack of efficiency. We don't need to talk about any more. We have to handle the defeat but it won't be easy after this game," said a dejected Lars Bender.
The Werkself plan in front of a sell-out crowd at the BayArena was clear: To secure a win against VfB to regain fourth place taken by Hoffenheim on Friday night with their home win against Hannover 96. Coach Heiko Herrlich had to manage without his main man in defence Sven Bender as the central defender was still suffering from muscular injury. Wendell, Jonathan Tah and Joel Pohjanpalo were already ruled out due to injury. The Werkself head coach opted for a very attacking line-up as he made six changes from the game at Borussia Dortmund: Bernd Leno, Lars Bender, Tin Jedvaj, Julian Baumgartlinger, Kai Havertz and Karim Bellarabi came into the side. Bayer 04 played a 3-4-3 formation with holding midfielder Baumgartlinger at the centre of a back three.
The new Bayer 04 line-up started the last top match of the season on Saturday night with a determination to get on the front foot. At the same time, there was a clear need to restrict space for quick counter-attacks mounted by Stuttgart, boosted by their positive results over the past few months – a good balance was required. It was great the way Kevin Volland completed a good move in the opposition box to put Bellarabi through and it was inches away from a successful conclusion (12'). Then came a huge chance to take the lead: Referee Tobias Welz consulted the VAR and, with a slight delay, correctly awarded Bayer 04 a penalty after a handball by Timo Baumgartl from a Bailey corner. Unfortunately, Lucas Alario failed to convert the spot kick with goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler going the right way to parry the ball away from the right side of his net on 16 minutes. Stuttgart cleared the rebound but five or six of their players were in the penalty area before Alario stepped up to take the kick. It is easy to understand why Heiko Herrlich remonstrated so vehemently with the fourth official.
The Werkself had the upper hand and constantly tried to build pressure and get behind the opposition defence with pace and precision. However, that didn't work out as often as desired because VfB confirmed their reputation of limiting chances on goal with aggressive defending and impressive organisation between the two back fours. A Havertz header from a Bellarabi cross flashed clearly wide of the post (21') as did a volley from Lars Bender (36'). It was disappointing that Bailey failed to connect with a cross when he was in a very good position on 38 minutes. Before a Bender shot was turned away for a corner and 44 minutes, Baumgartl I again handled the ball – the Werkself could easily have been awarded another penalty but this time there was neither the referee's whistle or a delayed decision to award a second spot kick. The two teams went into half-time with the score at 0-0.
Bailey had the first clear-cut opportunity in the second half. After a well constructed attack involving Alario, the ball came to the Jamaican unmarked in the box but Zieler saved his left foot effort on 50 minutes. Bayer 04 considerably upped their efforts as was clear from the restart. Bender produced a great run to set up Volland but he fired his shot over the bar from ten yards out – it should have gone in. The Werkself gave their all in search of the opener. Havertz beat three men but his low drive on 62 minutes was saved by Zieler. Alario just failed to connect with a cross whipped in by Bellarabi (65') and then Bellarabi lost his focus on a one-on-one with Zieler and the keeper was able to make the save (66') – unbelievable.
The missed chances came home to roost: The Bayer 04 defence were unable to repel an attack from the visitors and Gentner headed past the helpless Leno to give Stuttgart the lead on 67 minutes. Julian Brandt replaced Bellarabi a minute later and Heiko Herrlich brought on Stefan Kießling for Baumgartlinger on 76 minutes. Almost immediately after coming on, Kies set up Alario but the shot from the Argentinian from the edge of the box flew wide of the top corner (78'). Bayer 04 refused to give up and fought to the end. Brandt broke into the box but VfB made a last ditch clearance on 80 minutes. The Stuttgart goal was under constant attack. Kießling was in a one-on-one with Zieler and he tried to lob the ball over the keeper but the VfB shot stopper was able to recover to claim the ball. Kohr came on for Bender on 86 minutes. Zieler kept out a shot from Brandt on 90 minutes. And the VfB keeper also saved a header from Alario in added time (90+3'). It was like a jinx and then came the final whistle – Bayer 04 ended up losing the game.
The next outing for the Werkself on matchday 33 is away to Werder Bremen. The kick-off at the Weser Stadium on Saturday 5 May is at 15.30 CET.
Bayer 04: Leno – Jedvaj, Baumgartlinger (Kießling 76'), Retsos – L. Bender (Kohr 86'), Aránguiz, Havertz, Bailey – Bellarabi (Brandt 68'), Alario, Volland
VfB Stuttgart: Zieler – Baumgartl, Pavard, Badstuber, Insua – Gentner, Ascacibar, Aogo, Thommy (B. Özcan 46') – Gomez (Donis 86'), Ginczek (Kaminski 78')
Goals: 0-1 Gentner (67')
Special incidents: Zieler saves Alario's penalty (16')
Referee: Welz (Wiesbaden)
Booked: Baumgartlinger, Volland
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