"Today we got our reward for hard work," summed up two-goal Kerem Demirbay after the final whistle. "In the weeks before, we often could have deserved to win but we didn't manage it. That makes it even more enjoyable that we were able to win so well today."
After playing with a back three and two up front in the DFB Cup exit in Essen, Bayer 04 reverted to the usual 4-3-3 formation against Stuttgart. The change in system also led to a change in personnel from Lucas Alario through to Daley Sinkgraven. After being suspended for the cup game, Jonathan Tah came back into the side in place of Aleksandar Dragovic, Moussa Diaby replaced the injured Karim Bellarabi on the wing. And Florian Wirtz took the place of Exequiel Palacios in midfield. New signing Demarai Gray was in the Peter Bosz squad for the first time.
It was clear from the start that the Werkself were determined to make good for the slip-up in Essen. Bayer 04 started with great energy and played on the front foot – and, as on Tuesday, they hit the woodwork. After a run down the wing by Diaby, VfB keeper Gregor Kobel turned a shot from Leon Bailey onto the bar (2'). The Bosz team remained on top and again and again were clearly enjoying their game. Demirbay missed with a long-range effort on 11 minutes. Stuttgart then came into the game on 14 minutes through Mateo Klimowicz but it was the Werkself who deservedly scored the opening goal: Diaby brilliant created the space to shoot from the edge of the box and he hit a low drive. Kobel made an excellent save but Demirbay was on his toes and skilfully tucked the ball into the back of the net (18').
VfB, shortly after that forced to make a substitution due to an injury to Nicolas Gonzalez, endeavoured to get forward. Sinkgraven impressively blocked Silas Wamangituka and Lukas Hradecky held onto a Marc Oliver Kempf header from the ensuing corner (24'). However, the Werkself remained the clearly stronger team that impressed with their short passing game. Charles Aránguiz created two chances within a few minutes with outstanding passes to Diaby. First, a Bailey shot from a good position was blocked (25'). And then Kobel made a flying save to deny Schick (27'). Just after that, the impressive VfB keeper pulled off a great reflex save to keep out a deflected shot from Timothy Fosu-Mensah (28’).
Bayer 04 looked like they could double the score at any time during this phase – and it came again from a brilliant move. Aránguiz played the next opening pass to Bailey who immediately touched it on into the path of Demirbay. The midfield maestro was through on Kobel and he nutmegged the Swiss shot-stopper for his brace (31’). Moments later, the Werkself just missed out on extending their lead with a low shot from Schick going just past the far post (32'). Bayer 04 were on song and the next impressive move saw Waldemar Anton prevent Aránguiz from making it 3-0 (40'), and a long-range cracker from Bailey did not miss by much (45’).
Stuttgart found it difficult to handle the quick passing game of the Werkself but they were almost able to turn the game on its head just before the half-time whistle. But Hradecky showed that Bayer 04 have great quality at the back when he pulled off an outstanding save to keep out a low shot from Philipp Förster. Nevertheless: The 2-0 lead for the Werkself at the break was highly deserved and the lead could even have been bigger.
The superiority of the Black and Reds was also clear to Stuttgart's coach Pellegrino Matarazzo and he made two changes at half-time. His team had a chance early in the second half through Wamangituka (46') and then Bayer 04 hit the woodwork yet again: Schick flicked the ball on from a corner but Tah could only hit the outside of the post from a tight angle (49'). And even more annoyingly, Stuttgart pulled a goal back almost straight away. A diagonal ball from Erik Thommy, who came on for the start of the second half, found another substitute Kalajdzic and he was able to beat Edmond Tapsoba and produce a delicate lob over Hradecky to make it 2-1 (50').
Stuttgart were boosted by the equaliser and looked much more dangerous than in the first half with Wamangituka testing Hradecky with a shot from the right (55'). Bayer 04 now had to hit back and they did that brilliantly: A fast counter-attack ended with Kobel saving from Diaby but Bailey won the ball back and started the move for his own strike. The Jamaican passed back to Diaby who left his opposite number standing before crossing into the middle again leaving Bailey with a tap-in – a great move by the two wingers (56').
That was not to be the last wonderfully constructed goal from the Werkself. The next high-speed counter-attack was again carried out brilliantly. Schick initially struggled to control the ball but the centre forward quickly moved it out to the left to Diaby who provided a chip into the middle where Wirtz was able to head the ball back across Kobel into the net (68'). That was Diaby's third assist of the match.
But Stuttgart, who improved significantly in attack in the second half, refused to give up. Kalajdzic forced Hradecky to make his next save (70') and then he secured his brace from a cross from Thommy with the help of the inside of the post – the score was now 4-2 (77').
Bayer 04 remained completely unmoved. Instead of looking to defend their lead, the Werkself carried on in the same vein as they had all afternoon: They kept pressing forward. Two Bundesliga debutants played a big part: Both Jeremie Frimpong and Demarai Gray were brought on on 74 minutes and they immediately fitted in seamlessly with the Werkself attack with a number of fast runs. The impressive Kobel continued to foil further Werkself goals: The VfB keeper saved a long-range effort from Schick (80') and then kept out a double effort from Gray and Demirbay (83'). Shortly after that, the Swiss keeper was beaten for the fifth time – and both new signings played a decisive part. Frimpong broke down the right dribbling at pace and then he played a brilliant diagonal ball to Demirbay. As the two-goal scorer was stopped by an opponent, Gray followed up and netted his first Bundesliga goal with an excellent curling shot into the far corner – and that was after just ten minutes in Black and Red (84'). And hopefully there will be a lot more goals, Demarai!
A match, that represented an advert for Bundesliga football, was done and dusted. But the last noteworthy incident from a Werkself perspective was very good news: Sven Bender came off the bench just before the final whistle to celebrate his comeback after being sidelined through injury for two and a half months.
Bayer 04 take a lot of positives from a spectacular football match into the next home game at the weekend. Mainz 05 other visitors to the BayArena on 13 February.
Bayer 04: Hradecky – Fosu-Mensah (Dragovic 62'), Tah, Tapsoba, Sinkgraven – Wirtz, Aránguiz (S. Bender 87'), Demirbay - Bailey (Frimpong 74'), Schick, Diaby (Gray 74')
VfB Stuttgart: Kobel - Mavropanos, Anton, Kempf (Ahamada 46') - Massimo (Thommy 46') , Endo, Mangala, Wamangituka - Förster (Coulibaly 80’), Klimowicz (Klement 62’) - Gonzalez (Kalajdzic 22')
Goals: 1-0 Demirbay (18’), 2-0 Demirbay (31’), 2-1 Kalajdzic (50’), 3-1 Bailey (56’), 4-1 Wirtz (68’), 4-2 Kalajdzic (77’), 5-2 Gray (84’)
Referee: Sven Jablonski (Bremen)
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