Kevin Volland was clearly disappointed after the final whistle: "Hoffenheim were better with the final pass in the second half and they hit us on the break. We missed out on being compact immediately after losing the ball."
There were three changes to the starting line-up for the Werkself from the last game against Werder Bremen. Sven Bender returned in central defence in place of Aleksandar Dragovic, Tin Jedvaj replaced the suspended Wendell and Kai Havertz came into the side in place of Charles Aránguiz. The Chilean, feeling the effects of his international appearances, went straight to the team hotel in Sinsheim on Thursday night and he started on the bench. Lars Bender had recovered from his cold and led the team out as captain.
The situation ahead of the match at the PreZero Arena was clear: Hoffenheim were determined to secure a home win to reduce the gap of four points to Bayer 04 and put themselves in a position to challenge for a European spot. In contrast, the Werkself looked to extend the lead over a potential rival for a European finish. "We need to be wide-awake from the start unlike in the game against Bremen," demanded sporting director Simon Rolfes ahead of kick-off.
The encounter got off to a flying start – and the visitors sensed the chance to take the lead after just three minutes: After a quick attack, Leon Bailey opted not to shoot from the left of the box but instead passed to the far post but a sliding tackle from Benjamin Hübner prevented Volland from scoring. Bayer 04 were on the front foot straightaway and a lot of attacks came down the left flank via Bailey. However, it was the hosts that made the breakthrough: Kramaric broke through down the left and Belfodil left Lukas Hradecky helpless as he converted an accurate diagonal ball into the middle with a placed shot from the edge of the box into the corner of the net to give TSG the lead on 10 minutes.
Leverkusen refused to be downhearted and hit back almost immediately. Volland broke through down the left as the ball initially ended up with Julian Brandt and his accurate cross was headed in by Volland to make it 1-1 on 70 minutes. That was goal number 12 of the season for Volland and for Brandt it was already the ninth assist in the second half of the season. Shortly after that, Volland had a great chance to make it 2-1 but it was a unable to find the back of the net after a shot fired in by Bellarabi with the ball instead running parallel to the line (20'). Then Bellarabi suffered a thigh injury and had to be replaced with Aránguiz coming into the game on 26 minutes.
The game was played at a tremendous pace. Hradecky pulled off an impressive save to deny Kramaric even though the striker was in an offside position (29'). It was a good job that Lars Bender was able to head clear to make a last-ditch save on 31 minutes. The ball was in the back of the Leverkusen net one minute later but Belfodil was in an offside position. Before that, Hradecky made a sensational save to keep out a header from Hübner (32'). Just one minute after that, Leonardo Bittencourt put an effort just wide (33'). Then Peter Bosz was forced to make another change: Lars Bender went off injured to be replaced by Mitchell Weiser (36') – a bitter blow! It was a pity that Brandt put a shot over the Hoffenheim bar from close range on 42 minutes. The two sides went into the half-time break on level terms after an intensive 45 minutes.
After the restart, the two teams were right on top of their game. The TSG keeper Oliver Baumann kept out a low shot from Havertz (46'). But it was Hoffenheim who again scored the first goal of the half: Sven Bender deflected a shot from substitute Amiri leaving Hradecky stranded – the Werkself were 2-1 down on 51 minutes. The Werkself still refused to give up: A deflected Cross from Brandt landed on top of the goal (57 '), a shot from Weiser was turned over the bar by Baumann (58'). Then Bailey found himself in a one-on-one with Baumann but his hesitation allow the TSG keeper the chance to make the save (59'). And Hoffenheim maintained their clinical finishing: Belfodil rounded Weiser and hit a low shot into the net at the near post to make it 3-1 with Hradecky again having no chance of making a save (61').
Two goals down and the Werkself faced a tough challenge. Bayer 04 up their attacking efforts as they sought to get back into the game. A volley from Jonathan Tah flew just wide of the post(74'). Then Hoffenheim sealed the victory: Belfodil broke away down the left and put his shot past Hradecky towards the far corner but Kramaric got his foot to the ball before it crossed the line (79'). Havertz then appeared to have made it 4-2 but the substitute Lucas Alario was just offside as he made the pass (83'). That was the last notable effort from a Leverkusen perspective.
The Werkself are at home to RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga on matchday 28. The game at the BayArena is on Saturday 6 April with a 15.30 CET kick-off.
TSG Hoffenheim: Baumann – Kaderabek, Vogt, Hübner, Brenet – Grillitsch, Demirbay – Kramaric, Bittencourt (Otto 74') – Joelinton (51. Amiri), Belfodil (Bicakcic 87')
Bayer 04: Hradecky – L. Bender (Weiser 36'), Tah, S. Bender, Jedvaj – Havertz, Baumgartlinger, Brandt – Bellarabi (Aránguiz 26'), Volland, Bailey (Alario 79')
Goals: 1-0 Belfodil (10'), 1-1 Volland (17'), 2-1 Amiri (51'), 3-1 Belfodil (61'), 4-1 Kramaric (79')
Referee: Osmers (Hannover)
Booked: Grillitsch, Hübner – Bailey, Havertz
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