The reaction from the winners demonstrated satisfaction with the result. "The team did a lot right and this time scored the goals," said sporting director Simon Rolfes. "We posed a threat up front and didn't give much away at the back," declared Kevin Volland. The assessment from captain Lars Bender: "It was very good even though we could have scored the goals earlier for my liking. But we did create a lot a good moves."
The first competitive match of the second half of the season against Borussia Mönchengladbach and the debut for Peter Bosz was sobering in terms of the result but the coach was able to take several positives from the performance of his team. That was reflected in his selection of the line-up for the match at Wolfsburg: Bosz kept faith with exactly the same starting line-up and the options on the bench. Julian Brandt made his 150th Bundesliga appearance for Bayer 04 at the Volkswagen Arena.
In unpleasant and rainy weather, the Werkself were immediately tested down the right side with the first attacks from the hosts. However, the first chance of the game fell to Leverkusen – and what a chance it was: After a quickly taken free-kick by Charles Aránguiz and a pass from Brandt, Karim Bellarabi beat a Wolfsburg defender in the box before unleashing a left-foot shot but his effort hit the bar (5'). Bellarabi was again centre stage shortly after that with a shot on the turn from the edge of the penalty area that went just wide of the far post (10'). At the other end, the former Leverkusen player Admir Mehmedi hit a shot well wide of Lukas Hradecky's goal on 16 minutes.
As expected, it was an intense encounter that saw the Werkself increasingly playing in the opposition half thanks to great tactical discipline. Bellarabi also had the third chance for the visitors with his volley from a cross by Aránguiz flying a yard wide of the target (24'). Mehmedi went off injured just before the half-hour mark and he was replaced by Yunus Malli (27'). Bellarabi then had his fourth shot on goal but this time his effort did not present any problems for Koen Casteels (28'). Then it was unfortunate that Leon Bailey was unable to control a firm pass from Kevin Volland otherwise the Jamaican would have been through on goal (30').
Shortly after that, Volland appeared completely unmarked but Maximilian Arnold was able to make a last-ditch intervention to prevent a shot on goal (35'). The Werkself clearly had a majority of the chances up to that point. At the other end, Hradecky was able to breathe a sigh of relief when a disguised shot from Renato Steffen on 37 minutes went just wide of the far post. With a shot from Wout Weghorst, the Finnish keeper did well to parry with his foot (38'). Casteels then came out on top with the next effort from Volland (39') and he also saved a shot from Kai Havertz (40').
The deserved lead for the Werkself came just before half-time. Volland was brought down in the box by William for a stonewall penalty: Havertz stepped up and coolly converted the spot-kick with a low shot into the right corner to make it 1-0 on 45 minutes – his seventh goal of the season. And that meant the Werkself had scored against Wolfsburg the 33rd Bundesliga game in succession – a legal record in head-to-head league fixtures. The bustling Bellarabi almost doubled the lead before the break but Casteels was able to keep out his deflected shot (45+2). Bayer 04 absolutely deserved to take a lead into the half-time break.
Immediately after the restart, Volland could have made the score 2-0 after a quick break involving Havertz and a pass from Bellarabi but was unable to find the right moment to take the shot (46'). Lars Bender prevented an equaliser for the home team when he cleared the ball off the line from a William shot on 47 minutes. Brandt then had a shot from a tight angle but Casteels stayed on his feet and was able to prevent Leverkusen scoring a second goal (49').
There continued to be a host of chances and it was a very entertaining game full of tempo. Bailey fired in a shot but Casteels was able to punch the ball clear on 53 minutes. When Volland hit a shot from close range on the hour mark, the Wolfsburg goalkeeper again produced an impressive reaction save. VfL had him to thank that the score was still 1-0. However, two minutes later, the impressive Casteels was beaten: Volland hammered the ball into the roof of the net at the near post – 2-0 (62') and that was also his seventh goal of the season. It then looked like Wolfsburg had pulled a goal back when Steffen slotted the ball past Hradecky into the Werkself net. But the goal was ruled out following use of VAR that identified a very narrow offside in the build-up (66').
Hradecky then pulled off an impressive save to deny Josip Brekalo on 68 minutes and a minute later Havertz had the chance to make it 3-0. Shortly after that, Julian Baumgartlinger replaced Bailey (76'), Wolfsburg brought on Feliz Klaus for William to extend their attacking options (77').(77.). Mitchell Weiser came on for the injured Wendell at left back on 78 minutes. Aránguiz was centre stage in the Leverkusen game with resolute defending and smart build-up play.
Bayer 04 then came close to a third goal but the shot from Brandt on 81 minutes was hit straight at Casteels. The Werkself rounded off proceedings just before the end of the game: A whipped-in cross from Bellarabi was turned into the net by Brandt to make it 3-0 (88') – his 50th involvement in a goal in his 150th Bundesliga match.
Bayer 04 are next in action in the Bundesliga with a home game against the reigning champions as the Werkself entertain Bayern Munich at the BayArena (kick-off 15.30 CET) on Saturday 2 February.
VfL Wolfsburg: Casteels – William (Klaus 77'), Knoche, Brooks, Rousillon – Arnold – Gerhardt, Rexhbecaj (Brekalo 63') – Steffen, Mehmedi (Malli 27') – Weghorst
Bayer 04: Hradecky – L. Bender, Tah, S. Bender, Wendell (Weiser 78') – Havertz, Aránguiz, Brandt – Bailey (Baumgartlinger 76'), Volland, Bellarabi
Goals: 0-1 Havertz (45' pen.), 0-2 Volland (62'), 0-3 Brandt (88')
Referee: Felix Zwayer (Berlin)
Booked: Rexhbecaj, William, Brooks, Arnold, Roussillon – Aránguiz, Wendell, Bailey
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