Peter Bosz had to manage without Kai Havertz who was not fit for the game after a bout of illness. Alario took his place in the starting line-up. Otherwise the same players were on the pitch as in the narrow defeat in Madrid on Tuesday. The only change in personnel did have tactical consequences: For the first time in a while, Bayer 04 played with a two-man attack consisting of Kevin Volland and Alario. Nadiem Amiri took the place of Havertz in midfield, Mitchell Weiser played on the left flank and dropped back when required to change the back three of Jonathan Tah and the Bender twins into a back four.
Playing with a 3-2-3-2 formation, Bayer 04 got off to a start that was only fitting for the magnificent stage of the Saturday night game, the first involving the Werkself this season. Karim Bellarabi missed a half-chance in the opening minute and the Black and Reds forced three corners early on – and the third led to an early lead: Kerem Demirbay whipped the ball into the six-yard box, Alario headed the ball on and the former long-term Leverkusen player Toprak headed the ball into his own net under pressure from Sven Bender (4').
Bayer 04 controlled the game after the lead and Lucas Hradecky was only called into action on 15 minutes with a long-range effort from Joshua Sergent. A lot seem to be going to plan for the Werkself – but then came the first setback: Sven Bender went off injured to be replaced by Aleksandar Dragovic on 24 minutes. That did not have much effect on the balance of play on the pitch: Leverkusen were very dynamic and a lot went down Bellarabi's right flank – and the Peter Bosz team posed a serious threat from set pieces. A corner routine similar to the opener also ended with the ball in the back of the net but the goal was ruled out as Volland was adjudged to have been offside (27').
Bayer 04 had numerous chances to extend the lead. The Bremen keeper Jiri Pavlenka was able to save efforts from Amiri (32') and Volland (33') and an excellent move down the right ended with Volland missing the target (37'). The visitors from Bremen waited to play on the break and bring their attacking players into action – above all Rashica: The Kosovan did well to set up Sergent for a possible equaliser at the end of a quick counter-attack (30') and 10 minutes later he had a chance himself – and was successful. Bayer 04 gave Rashica far too much space and he was very lucky that the long-range effort deflected off Aleksandar Dragovic giving Hradecky no chance to keep out the leveller at 1-1 (40'). Bayer 04 hit straight back determined to take the lead into half-time-time but there was a lack of precision in a double chance from Volland and Alario in the first minute of added time.
The two sides went into the half-time break level at 1-1 – but this time it was the visitors who flew out of the blocks: A throw-in ended with Sergent setting up Klaassen in the box. Bayer 04 were again unlucky that the ball deflected off Lars Bender to make it 2-1 for Bremen (48'). The Werkself had to pull themselves together and Leonardo Bittencourt missed a chance to shoot for the North German side (52'). Bayer 04 then remembered their own strengths and deservedly levelled. Indicative of the build-up: The incredibly agile Bellarabi brushed past Marco Friedl to set up Alario who, in the style of a true goalscorer, fired the ball into the net at the near post (58').
That goal clearly gave Bayer 04 a boost and the Werkself were now clearly on top – albeit they missed the best chances to turn the game round quickly: Aleksandar Dragovic headed just wide of the target on the hour mark and seven minutes later Alario hit the bar from an Amiri cross and Dragovic hit the rebound over the bar. Volland did some excellent work to set up Alario to apparently score his second goal. The BayArena celebrated but the VAR in Cologne got involved. In the build-up to the goal, the ball hit the hand of Amiri from close range. That was enough for the match officials to discount the third Leverkusen goal (71'). It was understandable that the Werkself, now with Paulinho on for Demirbay, reacted to this decision by pinning Bremen back in front of their own box. The home team now appeared to be involved in a power play but there were no clear chances to score the winner. In spite of all the annoyance at the two dropped points, there was another piece of good news in the closing stages: After a 19-month injury lay-off, Joel Pohjanpalo celebrated his return as a substitute in place of Julian Baumgartlinger.
Bayer 04 can now take the energy from the tremendous top-match into the DFB Cup. The Werkself entertain SC Paderborn on Tuesday night. (20.45 CET).
Bayer 04: Hradecky – Tah, S. Bender (Dragovic 24’), L. Bender – Baumgartlinger (Pohjanpalo 89’), Demirbay (Paulinho 62’) – Bellarabi, Amiri, Weiser- Alario
Werder Bremen: Pavlenka - Gebre Selassie, Groß, Toprak, Friedl - Sahin - M. Eggestein, Klaassen - Bittencourt (Bargfrede 90 + 2’) - Sargent (J. Eggestein 86’), Rashica (Goller 80’)
Goals: 1-0 Toprak (4’, o.g.), 1-1 Rashica (40’), 1-2 Klaassen (48’), 2-2 Alario (58’)
Referee: Martin Petersen (Stuttgart)
Booked: L. Bender, Alario
Attendance: 30,210 (sold out)
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