Lukas Hradecky was beaming with delight after the final whistle. "Every win is important but this one is in particular," said the Finn, recently named Sports Personality of the Year in his home country. "There's huge joy even though we should have led by more before the equaliser. We were a bit shaky after it was 1-1 but deserved to win in the end."
There were five changes to the Werkself line-up from the 1-0 defeat at Union Berlin last Friday. Peter Bosz made changes throughout the side. Lars Bender and Wendell played at full-back in place of Aleksandar Dragovic and Daley Sinkgraven. Captain Charles Aránguiz played in defensive midfield with Julian Baumgartlinger ruled out with a muscle problem and Florian Wirtz returned from injury to take the place of Kerem Demirbay. There was also rotation up front with Lucas Alario in the starting eleven in place of Patrik Schick. New signing Timothy Fosu-Mensah from Manchester United was in the squad for the first time.
The clash between the two teams, level on points and just behind the leading duo of Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig, promised intense flowing football of the highest quality to round off the first of the season. And the game got off to a flying start: Wirtz tested Roman Bürki with a swirling shot from 20 yards out (2'), at the other end Lukas Hradecky had to come out of his area to clear and was blocked by Erling Haaland (3'). Both teams endeavoured to get on the front foot and go on the attack. A left foot shot from Alario from the edge of the box flew a yard wide of the post after a foul on Wirtz went unnoticed (9').
Bayer 04 succeeded in closing down Dortmund's central defenders Mats Hummels and Manuel Akanji and forced BVB to play long balls. And one of those resulted in the Werkself taking the lead: A long clearance by Bürki was headed by Wendell and Leon Bailey then played a perfect diagonal ball over 40 yards into the path of Moussa Diaby who controlled the ball well and then slotted his shot into the net for the 1-0 lead (14'). BVB knew how to reply: Aránguiz defended brilliantly against Jadon Sancho and the ensuing cross from Thomas Meunier missed Haaland by a whisker (24'). Then the hosts came again: Bürki saved a shot at the near post from Diaby following good work by Wirtz and the follow-up volley from Alario was deflected over the bar for a corner by Raphael Guerreiro (27'). There was an attractive sideways scissor-kick from Diaby just after the half-hour mark. The match was very lively with Leverkusen increasingly gaining the upper hand after the opening stages.
The Werkself succeeding in moving the ball very quickly with purpose on a number of occasions and Wirtz, above all, troubled Borussia with his creative driving force. And Diaby with his irresistible pace: It was great to see the winger sprint away from three Dortmund players but then he hit his shot straight at Bürki (35'). Leverkusen were almost untroubled in defence with Aránguiz making a number of timely interceptions. And there was a threat up front as well: Bürki just managed to parry an Alario header (44'). BVB could not have complained if they had been 2-0 down at half-time. Speaking to Sky during the break, Steffen Kießling expressed his satisfaction: "We needed a few minutes but then played really well. We had a lot of space and chances and got behind their defence well."
The second half started in the same manner. After winning the ball from Brandt, Diaby again raced clear but Bailey's curling effort with his right foot went high over the target (49'). A shot from Nadiem Amiri from outside the box did not pose any problems for Bürki (51'). Shortly after that, Wirtz brilliantly cleared the ball way from Haaland in his own penalty area (53'). Sancho was blocked at the last moment (54'), and Meunier fired a shot over the bar (55'). BVB were now back in the game. Sinkgraven came on for the injured Wendell on the hour mark.
It remained an intensive battle between the two sides. Akanji just managed to hold up Wirtz on a solo run and, at the other end, Jonathan Tah cleared a pass from Brandt into the penalty area (65'). Then came the Dortmund leveller almost out of the blue: Borussia disrupted the Werkself attempt to bring the ball out of defence and Brandt converted from 20 yards out with an impressive curler into the far corner to make it 1-1 (67'). Hradecky was unable to keep it out. Dortmund were suddenly on the case. Edmond Tapsoba made a goal-line clearance to deny Brandt (68'), and a shot from Sancho at the end of a solo run flew wide of the target (70'). Peter Bosz reacted by bringing on Patrik Schick and Kerem Demirbay for Alario and Aránguiz.
Diaby once again raced clear down the left but Bürki was able to get his fingertips to the ball (75'). The action was end to end as both sides pressed for the winner. But it was the Werkself who struck next: Schick and Diaby skilfully played their way through down the left and the Frenchman squared the ball to Wirtz with the outstanding youngster beating Bürki with a placed shot from 16 yards out into the back of the net to make it 2-1 (80'). Dortmund upped the tempo in the closing stages but the Werkself stood firm. There were four minutes of added time. A free kick from Demirbay flashed just wide of the upright (90+2'). Then came the final whistle – and the winners on the night, now in second place for the moment, happily congratulated each other.
The Werkself are next in action in the Bundesliga with the first match of the second half of the season: The opponents at the BayArena on Saturday 23 January at 15.30 CET are VfL Wolfsburg.
Bayer 04: Hradecky – L. Bender, Tah, Tapsoba, Wendell (Sinkgraven 60') – Wirtz, Aránguiz (Demirbay 69'), Amiri – Bailey, Alario (Schick 69'), Diaby
Borussia Dortmund: Bürki – Meunier, Akanji, Hummels, Guerreiro – Bellingham (Moukoko 83'), Delaney – Sancho (Reyna 73'), Reus (Tigges 88'), Brandt – Haaland
Goals: 1-0 Diaby (14’), 1-1 Brandt (67’), 2-1 Wirtz (80’)
Referee: Felix Zwayer (Berlin)
Booked: Bailey, Diaby – Hummels, Delaney
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