"It's definitely worth something," said midfielder Julian Baumgartlinger on going top of the league. "We all know how difficult it is in this league to be top with so many strong teams. It's a positive snapshot you have to be able to value." Lars Bender, the Werkself skipper tonight, added: "We play football to be successful. It felt much tighter than the 4-1 score suggest but we scored the three goals at the right time and turned the game to our advantage."
As expected, the Werkself coach Peter Bosz did rotate somewhat less after the 4-0 win against Slavia Prague and he almost fielded the same starting line-up as in the last Bundesliga game at Schalke - with just one change: Edmond Tapsoba started in central defence in place of Aleksandar Dragovic. That also meant: Lukas Hradecky and Florian Wirtz were back in the team and Lucas Alario started on the bench.
The game started with a bit of a shock for the Werkself: Only 15 seconds had been played when Florian Grillitsch had a free header from an Andrej Kramaric cross but his effort went over the bar. Bayer 04 were unmoved and the Werkself played with great confidence going forward. From a shot by Nadiem Amiri two Hoffenheim players hit the ball against each other and Oliver Baumann turned the rebound away for a corner – and what happened next, in spite of the late time in 2020, was something for any review of the year: Leon Bailey and Amiri played a short corner and the Jamaican curled a delightful shot from the right side of the penalty area into the left top corner – an absolute wonder goal and a dream start for the Black and Reds (4').
The match turned into a very entertaining Bundesliga encounter as Hoffenheim endeavoured to get forward as often as possible. However, the Werkself remained on top and looked to be enjoying the game with some attractive moves. Bailey had the next chance from a quick Wirtz pass but this time he missed the target (7') and an impressive back-heel from Amiri was put over the top by Patrik Schick (19’).
Bayer 04 had to be on their toes with Hoffenheim pressing to get back on terms. From a corner, Lukas Hradecky pulled off a smart save to deny Christoph Baumgartner and Ihlas Bebou failed to find the target with a back-heel (24’). The Werkself were forced to be extremely careful during this phase of the game – and that is what the Bosz team did. A dangerous cross from Kramaric was defended well by Bayer 04 and Bailey was wide awake when the impressive Croat for TSG opted to play the ball backwards. Our number nine intercepted the back pass, took the ball past Baumann and hit it into the empty net from 30 yards out to score a brace (27').
Hoffenheim responded with vigorous attacks and Stefan Posch headed just over the top from a set piece on the half-hour mark. Again and again, Hoffenheim forced Bayer 04 into intensive challenges and there are a number of tricky situations for the Werkself defence. But the central defensive pairing of Jonathan Tah and Edmond Tapsoba remained solid, clearing up several dangerous situations and contributing well to build-up play. The Werkself did well to keep the ball away from their own goal and had a clear-cut chance to make it 3-0 just before half-time. At the end of a fast move, Wirtz had a shot from the centre of the box forcing the TSG keeper Baumann to pull off a brilliant save that prevented Bayer 04 going into half-time with a bigger lead (44').
Instead of 3-0, it was suddenly 2-1 shortly after the restart: Ryan Sessegnon broke up a Leverkusen press and found Baumgartner who tucked the ball away from the left into the bottom right corner of the Werkself net (50'). Hoffenheim almost achieved a double whammy but Hradecky kept out a low Grillitsch shot and Baumgartner hit his shot just wide (52'). Take a breath.
The Werkself did briefly. Bayer 04 were straight back in the game after the short period of pressure from Hoffenheim. Moussa Diaby was denied by Baumann (53’) just before the Werkself restored the two-goal advantage in an impressive manner. Schick smartly back-heeled a pass from Lars Bender to Wirtz - and the 17- year-old then produced some impressive theatrics. He neatly tucked the ball past Diadie Samassekou, stroked it with the bottom of his boot round Kevin Vogt and chipped a shot past Baumann into the back of the net (55').
With the second wonder goal of the game in the bag it was significantly easier for Bayer 04, particularly when the Werkself were able to play with more players. Grillitsch was already on a booking when he executed a slide tackle on Amiri and he was dismissed for a second yellow card offence (64'). And the numerical superiority increased when Posch, already booked, was sent off for a deliberate handball in the middle of the pitch (79').
The game was over by this point with Bayer 04 clearly on top. Baumann made an excellent save to keep out Wirtz (88') – but the Werkself were not quite finished: Substitute Karim Bellarabi dribbled into the penalty area from the right and unleashed a shot, which Havard Nordtveit blocked with his hand – penalty. Alario, also on as a substitute, stepped up and converted via the inside of the left upright to make it 4-1 (90+1').
That was the icing on the cake on a very special evening that saw Bayer 04 go top of the Bundesliga for the first time since matchday three in the 2014/15 season. The Werkself have to defend this position on Wednesday 16 December (kick-off: 20.30 CET). Going into the derby as league leaders – what could be better?
Bayer 04: Hradecky - L. Bender (Weiser 75'), Tah, Tapsoba, Sinkgraven (Wendell 65') - Baumgartlinger (Dragovic 82') - Wirtz, Amiri - Bailey (Bellarabi 75'), Schick (Alario 66'), Diaby
TSG Hoffenheim: Baumann - Posch, Vogt, Nordtveit, Sessegnon - Samassekou (Bogarde 86'), Rudy (Skov 46') - Bebou (Belfodil 59'), Grillitsch, Baumgartner (Gacinovic 76') - Kramaric (Akpoguma 76')
Goals: 1-0 Bailey (4’), 2-0 Bailey (27’), 2-1 Baumgartner (50’), 3-1 Wirtz (55’), 4-1 Alario (90+1’, pen.)
Referee: Martin Petersen (Stuttgart)
Booked: Diaby, Sinkgraven, Amiri - Vogt, Nordtveit
Sent off: Grillitsch (64’), Posch (79’)
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