Black and Red rotation: Hannes Wolf made six changes to the Leverkusen starting eleven compared with the 3-0 defeat at Hertha Berlin – in the last game under Peter Bosz. Lukas Hradecky returned after injury to replace Lennart Grill in goal, stalwart Sven Bender was part of a back three with Jonathan Tah and Edmond Tapsoba. In the centre of midfield, Exequiel Palacios played 90 minutes in the Bundesliga for the first time since 1 November. Also in the starting line-up were Karim Bellarabi, Nadiem Amiri and Lucas Alario.
While Charles Aránguiz has remained the captain with Wolf at the helm, the captain's armband looked different against Schalke. The upper arm of the Chilean sported the hashtag #Morethanfootball, which was featured at today's game. Over recent weeks, Bayer 04 along with over 100 fellow campaigners from across Europe have been supporting the #Morethanfootball Action Weeks to show that football is more than just a game. Inclusion, integration plus the promotion of social interaction are just a small selection of themes that are an inherent part of the Bayer 04 DNA.
As under Hannes Wolf's predecessor Peter Bosz, the Werkself dominated the stats with 66 per cent possession in the first ten minutes. But it was the visitors from Gelsenkirchen who had the best chance early on: Experienced striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar put a cross from Schalke Bundesliga debutant Mehmet Aydin just over the bar (11').
The Werkself played with caution and the back three did not give the visitors another chance on goal following that effort on goal – and they were able to convert their first clear chance. With 26 minutes on the clock, Kerem Demirbay put in an accurate cross from the left and centre forward Lucas Alario was able to slide into turn the ball into the net to make it 1-0. There were few clear-cut chances before Sven Jablonski blew the whistle for half-time but the Werkself succeeded in keeping it tight at the back.
While the Schalke head coach Dimitrios Grammozis made one change at half-time, Wolf kept faith with his starting eleven. Five minutes after the restart, Wendell won the ball by the opposition penalty area and tried his luck with a left-foot shot but the shot went wide of the target.
The new scoreboard at the BayArena briefly showed 1-1 just before the hour mark: Huntelaar put the ball in the back of the net – but the provider, substitute Can Bozdogan, was offside in the build-up. While the decision of the match official was being checked by VAR, Florian Wirtz came on in place of the skipper Aránguiz (59'). Shortly after that, the duo involved in the opening goal, Demirbay and Alario, were also taken off (68').
The substitute duo sent on by Wolf were then directly involved in the second Black and Red strike of the game: Wirtz put Patrik Schick through and he hit a perfect left-foot shot into the far corner of the goal from 20 yards out to double the lead at 2-0 (81'). But, thanks to the opposition centre forward, the game at the BayArena was close again in the final stages.
While the strike from Schalke stalwart Huntelaar 15 minutes earlier was rightly disallowed, there were no complaints about the second successful effort from the Dutchman. The 37-year-old was picked out by Bozdogan in the box and he was able to chest the ball down and then volley it into the net.
Hannes Wolf brought on fresh legs in the closing stages in the shape of Jeremie Frimpong and Moussa Diaby and the Werkself were comfortably able to hold on to the narrow lead to claim the first three points under the new head coach.
The Werkself have a longer break after the home game against the Royal Blues. There will be a light training session on Sunday but the players will have the day off on Easter Monday. The next league match is on Monday, 12 April. Bayer 04 are away to TSG Hoffenheim at the end of Bundesliga matchday 28 with the kick off at 20.30 CEST.
Bayer 04: Hradecky – Tah, S. Bender, Tapsoba – Bellarabi (Frimpong 82'), Palacios, Aránguiz (Wirtz 59'), Wendell – Demirbay (Bailey 67'), Amiri (Diaby 82') – Alario (Schick 67')
Schalke 04: Rönnow – Aydin (Schöpf 75'), Becker, Stambouli, Thiaw, Calhanoglu (Bozdogan 46') – Serdar (Paciencia 75'), Mascarell, Kolasinac – Huntelaar, Harit
Goals: 1-0 Alario (26’), 2-0 Schick (72’), 2-1 Huntelaar (81’)
Referee: Sven Jablonski (Bremen)
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