Lennart Grill, making his debut in goal for the Werkself, had his joy at his first Bundesliga appearance spoiled. "A dream came true for me with this match. But the result is a real downer. We were clearly on top in the first half and had several chances. Freiburg were more effective after the restart," said Grill.
Compared with Thursday's 2-0 defeat in the Europa League against Young Boys Bern, head coach Peter Bosz made six changes to his starting line-up. Grill, signed from FC Kaiserslautern in the summer of 2020, replaced Niklas Lomb in goal. The Germany U21 keeper made his debut for the Werkself. "Lombo is a great bloke and a good goalkeeper but the pressure would have been too much for him. Now Lennart has a chance," said Bosz in explaining the change. In addition, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Wendell, Nadiem Amiri, Lucas Alario and Demarai Gray came into the team in place of Aleksandar Dragovic, Daley Sinkgraven, Jeremie Frimpong, Patrik Schick (all on the bench) and Moussa Diaby (serving a one-match ban). Karim Bellarabi was back in the squad after recovering from a muscle injury, Sven Bender is not yet fit enough to return.
Everybody at the Werkself was aware of what was at stake and Bayer 04 were suitably focused going into the game. Freiburg played with two up front, sometimes pressed high up the pitch but also dropped back deep into their own half as required to close down space. The hosts had the first double chance on ten minutes: Firstly, the Freiburg goalkeeper Florian Müller turned a shot from Leon Bailey heading into the net over the bar. The following corner from Gray was headed goalwards with power by Alario but Müller pulled off a sensational reflex save to turn the effort from the Argentinian over the bar (10'). That could have been the first goal.
The Werkself were on the front foot and Freiburg seemed happy with the role of killjoys as they endeavoured to keep it tight at the back. Gray had the next big chance: It was impressive how the winger, with a goal involvement in each of his first three Bundesliga appearances, broke through and fired the ball at the near post but Müller was in the right spot to make the save (22'). In another move involving Gray, Bailey was surprised as the ball came through a number of Freiburg legs and he was unable to connect (24'). Leverkusen had significantly more of the game but failed to make the most of opportunities through a lack of precision in their passing game.
Alario again tested Müller but Bailey was in an offside position for the rebound (33'). Then the Freiburg shot-stopper also held on to an effort from the agile Gray after a one-two with Alario (34'). The Werkself were very solid in defence and the debutant Grill was having a quiet day but he became involved when it was necessary (36'). A header from Jonathan Tah flew over the top of the target (38') – there could have been more made of the opportunity by the central defender who scored his only previous goal of the season in the 4-2 win at Freiburg earlier in the campaign. A bitter blow: Fosu-Mensah slipped off the ball just before half-time and he twisted his right knee and had to go off. He was replaced by Dragovic (44'). Grill had his first opportunity to make a flying save to keep out a header from Demirovic (45').
At the start of the second half, Freiburg continued to sit back – and then broke the deadlock out of the blue: hurler broke down the right and squared the ball for Demirovic to hit the ball into the net from the penalty spot – 1-0 to Freiburg (50') with Grill having no chance of saving the placed low shot. The visitors converted their first chance to take the lead and that was the situation that Leverkusen obviously wanted to avoid at all costs. And Freiburg added a second: Once again, SCF broke down the right and Vincenzo Grifo crossed from the other side to Höler on the six-yard box and he was just onside as he turned the ball into the net to make it 2-0 (61').
Peter Bosz reacted by bringing on Schick and Frimpong for Amiri and Gray (67'). It was Bailey who then put the Werkself back in the game: The Jamaican received the ball from Alario and then sidestepped Lukas Kübler before firing a powerful shot into the far corner for his sixth goal of the season to make it 2-1 (70'). Shortly after that, Bailey was shown a yellow card, his fifth, and he is therefore suspended for the next game at Gladbach.
The Werkself went all out in the closing stages. Dragovic had a shot from the edge of the box but the ball flew wide of the target (83'). Then Frimpong went off injured – Karim Bellarabi came off the bench (84'). Schick tried to control the ball with his back to the goal but his effort went high over the net (87'). Bayer 04 were looking to land a lucky blow with a mixture of desperation and hope. It was good the way Florian Wirtz squared the ball to Dragovic in the penalty area but the shot from the Austrian was blocked (90+ 1'). And a solo effort from Bellarabi also went unrewarded (90+4'). The final whistle soon followed.
Bayer 04 have their next game in the league away to Borussia Mönchengladbach on Saturday, 6 March at 15.30 CET on Bundesliga matchday 24.
Bayer 04: Grill – Fosu-Mensah (Dragovic 44’), Tah, Tapsoba, Wendell – Wirtz, Aránguiz, Amiri (Frimpong 67’/ Bellarabi 84’) – Bailey, Alario, Gray (Schick 67’)
SC Freiburg: Müller – Kübler (Schlotterbeck 76’), Lienhart (Gulde 46’), Heintz, Günter – Schmid, Santamaria, Höfler, Grifo (Haberer 76’) – Höler (Sallai 76’), Demirovic (Jeong 82’)
Goals: 0-1 Demirovic (50’), 0-2 Höler (61’), 1-2 Bailey (70’)
Referee: Felix Zwayer (Berlin)
Booked: Aránguiz, Bailey – Demirovic, Höfler, Sallai
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