Head coach Hannes Wolf was forced to make two changes to his starting eleven compared with the goalless draw in Bremen: Injury ruled out Daley Sinkgraven (cruciate) and Exequiel Palacios (groin) and they were replaced by Wendell and Charles Aránguiz. In addition, Moussa Diaby was preferred to Karim Bellarabi, who dropped down to the bench.
'Loyalty, fight, passion – Thank you Lars'. Those words were on a huge banner on the North Stand of the BayArena on the penultimate Bundesliga matchday. This Saturday afternoon in Leverkusen not only featured the race for Europe but was also shaped by farewells: Lars and his twin brother Sven Bender are retiring at the end of the season. In addition, managing directors Fernando Carro and Rudi Völler plus sporting director Simon Rolfes also thanked the departing Sven Elsinger, head of the physiotherapy department at Bayer 04.
And the important match between the sixth- and eighth-placed teams started with a highlight: Werkself centre forward Patrik Schick had the ball in the back of the Berlin net after seven minutes. However, the Czech handled the ball on receiving the pass – referee Patrick Ittrich correctly ruled out the strike. As the game progressed, the hosts gain more and more control but found it difficult to find gaps in the Union defence.
The Berlin team looked to play on the break, led by Max Kruse. And he was the first one to test Werkself keeper Lukas Hradecky on 15 minutes. The Finn was in the right place and able to make the save without any problems. At this point, the team under head coach Urs Fischer gained the upper hand – and were able to score. Kruse converted a pass from Robert Andrich but VAR revealed the provider was just offside (21').
The third strike of the afternoon counted – to the joy of all Black and Reds. Wendell hit the ball into the penalty area from the left flank on 27 minutes. His cross was slightly deflected and the ball landed at the feet of Florian Wirtz, who had a simple tap-in at the far post. There was no further excitement before the half-time whistle so that the Werkself took a 1-0 lead into the break.
The two teams came out unchanged for the second half with the opening minutes dominated by the Werkself's short passing game. But the visitors from the capital also had phases where they control possession. The game became more and more open – also due to attacking changes made by Urs Fischer.
The first substitution for Leverkusen also brought a change of system: Wolf changed to a back three with substitute Bellarabi on the right flank and Diaby joining Schick in a front two. Substitutions at this time made by Union Berlin brought success: With 72 minutes on the clock, Sheraldo Becker hit a high ball into the penalty area from the right. Substitute Pohjanpalo headed goalwards, first hitting Hradecky but then putting the rebound in the net to level at 1-1.
The match was increasingly evenly balanced with any result possible on this afternoon at the BayArena. The best chance fell to Bellarabi who broke into the opposition box with the ball at his feet. A square ball to Diaby would have been perfect but the right-winger hit the feet of his opponent (88'). The game rightly ended in a draw.
The Werkself end the 2020/21 season with an away game at Borussia Dortmund. The match against the newly crowned DFB Cup winners, with Nadiem Amiri and Edmond Tapsoba suspended, kicks off next Saturday, 22 May at 15.30 CEST.
Bayer 04: Hradecky – Tah, Dragovic, Tapsoba, Wendell – Aránguiz, Demirbay – Diaby, Wirtz (S. Bender 90+2'), Amiri (Bellarabi 67') – Schick (Gray 84')
Union Berlin: Luthe – Trimmel (Becker 66'), Friedrich, Knoche, N. Schlotterbeck, Lenz (Bülter 66') – Gentner (Griesbeck 84'), Andrich, Ingvartsen (Pohjanpalo 55'), Kruse – Musa (Awoniyi 55')
Goals: 1-0 Wirtz (27’), 1-1 Pohjanpalo (72’)
Booked: Amiri, Tapsoba – Ingvartsen, Andrich
Referee: Patrick Ittrich (Hamburg)
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