In a match which was considered as a European six-pointer by both teams, Leverkusen came out with a 1-0 victory in a tight affair at the Veltins Arena. Karim Bellarabi who was the best player on the pitch scored the only goal from a tight angle to send Leverkusen to third place in the league table. Roger Schmidt fielded a cautious 4-4-2 with Stefan Kiessling and Bellarabi leading the line. Turkish playmaker Calhanoglu and club captain Lars Bender started from the bench following a grueling Champions League encounter with Atletico Madrid on Wednesday. Roberto Di Matteo was without his influential captain Benedikt Howedes who was suspended for the tie after picking up his fifth yellow card. He fielded Joel Matip in that position and handed teenager Leroy Sane his second start in the league. Schalke had the brightest of exchanges at the start infront of a jam packed Veltins Arena as Klass-Jan Huntelaar produced a fine save from Bernd Leno when the ball fell to his feet following a mix-up inside the visitora s box. Leverkusen had a session of their own which resulted in Bellarabi stinging the palms of Wellenreuther with a well calculated shot. The German international soon broke the deadlock after collecting a pass from Simon Rolfes to blast into the roof of Schalkea s netting from a tight angle.
Second half started with Calhanoglu and Omer Toprak entering the action followed by Schalkea s domination of possession. Christian Fuchs had the best chance to restore parity, but his acrobatic low drive went inches wide of the net. Both sides started to make strong challenges in the midfield due to which the goal scoring chances dried up. Schalke pushed forward with the purpose of leveling things up, but lacked the final ball. Bellarabi had the best chance in the final minutes to take the tie out of Schalkea s hands but dinked a ball well above the crossbar. As a result the Werkself have defeated the Royal Blues at their home for the first time since 2011. Meanwhile, Schalke had to thank Augsburg for keeping their fifth place following Augsburga s 2-0 defeat to SC Freiburg. Roger Schmidt has to wait for the match against Bayern Munich and Borussia Monchengladbach to confirm a one point lead over Gladbach.
Talking Points From The Match:
- Calhanoglua s Influence On Leverkusen Has Clearly Increased:
The 21-year olda s influence was clearly visible after his introduction at the half-time against Schalke. Even though Roger Schmidta s men had one goal advantage, their ball movement wasn’t that good until the Turkish playmaker entered the fray. He kept the play ticking in the final third against Schalkea s ultra defensive set up until the midfield battle intensified over the hour mark. His purchase from Hamburg SV has certainly paid dividends for the club as his performance on all levels are improving. Even though he has played his first season of Champions League football, his abilities have gained interest from some of Europea s biggest clubs. His performance against Atletico Madrid in the round of 16 have been examples of his potential to succeed at the biggest stage. He still might not be a finished product as he crumbled under pressure in the penalty shoot out in Madrid blazing his spot kick over the bar. But making some big strides in Europe might be possible for Leverkusen if they can keep him over the next few seasons.
- Bellarabi Is Justifying His Position:
Karim Bellarabi has proved that Joachim Low was right in calling him up for the German national team for the upcoming matches against Australia and Georgia. The winger has been handed his first international debut in October last year and went on to make four appearances for Germany. He was by far the best player on the pitch in Saturdaya s match, as he had six chances at the goal and converted one which gave Leverkusen the win and a crucial six points lead over Schalke in the table. He gladly exploited the space given to him by the Schalke back-line who were without their leader. He could have killed off the tie when he was presented another chance at the goal by an on rushing Wellenreuther. But his first half goal ensured that his team is in contention in sealing the automatic qualification spot for next seasona s Champions League. With this form he could prove to be important for Joachim Low in the upcoming international friendly against Australia and for the all-important European Qualifier against Georgia on 29th March.
- Experience Coulda ve Saved Schalke:
Roberto DiMatteo coulda ve started Kevin-Prince Boateng alongside Huntelaar upfront, but instead he chose to go with teenager Leroy Sane. The Italian later realized it to be a mistake and replaced the youngster with the Ghanian before the first half. The former Tottenham and AC Milan man coulda ve made the difference in the opening quarter where Schalke were brightest in attack. But Leverkusen kept him at bay by making some clumsy challenges. Though the head coacha s choice in continuing rookie goalkeeper Timon Wellenreuther despite Ralf Fahrmanna s availability was not a bad one, his long ball tactics backfired. As Klaas-Jan Huntelaar mentioned in his post match reaction, Schalkea s playing of long balls didna t really workout for them and their play in the final-third lacked end-product. The makeshift backline consisting of Ayhan, Joel Matip and Matija Nastasic allowed the Leverkusen attackers too much space on the ball, which resulted in Bellarabia s goal. Schalke realized it late in the second half and stopped Leverkusena s attacks in the midfield itself by mitigating the effect of Calhanoglu. Despite the loss, Royal Blues will have another chance in the European race as they face fellow competitors Augsburg in their next Bundesliga fixture. But for now the Gelsenkirchen side would have to be relieved that they didna t drop in the standings.