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Leverkusen and Wolfsburg continue to flirt with Bundesliga oblivion

Bayer Leverkusen's Bernd Leno in action

On a weekend in which 35 goals were scored in the Bundesliga, the BayArena always seemed likely to chip in generously. Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg fixtures, especially on this ground, produce goals, with the most notable occasion having been two years back, when the visitors let 3-0 and 4-2 leads slip before Bas Dost won the game at the death with his fourth goal of the afternoon.

The difference then was that both teams were riding the crests of relative waves, finishing the campaign in fourth and second positions in the table respectively. Already, that seems like a very long time ago.

The six goals here were more the product of jitters than genius, and there was little appetite to savour the moment. “I can’t be happy with it because we deserved the victory,” said Mario Gómez of his seven-minute hat-trick that turned the game on its head in the closing stages after Leverkusen had – somehow – led 2-0.

In fact, there hadn’t been any time to enjoy it. Just when Wolfsburg thought they were home and hosed 17-year-old Kai Havertz, a rare beacon of light in a rapidly-worsening campaign for Leverkusen, popped up to confidently drive in a maiden first-team goal to make it 3-3 – 91 seconds after Gómez had given the visitors their hard-earned lead.

It still wasn’t much of a 43rd birthday celebration for Tayfun Korkut (“I’m not a fan of birthdays,” he said later, glumly), on the Leverkusen bench, still waiting for a first win, and already drifting into the realm of the embattled coach. This was, as the score and the order of scoring suggests, an unusual afternoon. Perhaps its most peculiar aspect was that after Leverkusen snatched that late equaliser and finished the day further up the table than Wolfsburg, most were left with the sense that Andries Jonker’s side are much easier to believe in than Korkut’s.

There is still a level of denial about how serious Leverkusen’s situation is. Post-match, Kicker wrote about them “gradually losing touch with the European places” while Wolfsburg continue to look over their shoulders. The reality is jarring. Korkut’s team have just two points more than Die Wölfe, and are only three points ahead of Augsburg in the relegation play-off spot. They are in the thick of this, whether they want to admit it or not.

Wolfsburg, to their credit, already have. The ousting of the successful Dieter Hecking and Klaus Allofs left them contemplating a year zero in mid-season but Jonker, who already knew the club from his spell as assistant, has wasted no time in infusing a previously disparate squad with generous helpings of personality. They were the better, more composed side for most of this game, and didn’t panic even when the match looked as if it was slipping away. Nobody has benefitted more from Jonker’s arrival than Gómez, who has doubled his season’s goal tally in the four matches since the former Arsenal academy chief’sarrival, striking six times.

Leverkusen’s tentativeness, on the other hand, betrayed a real lack of confidence. When Karim Bellarabi scored a stylish opener five minutes before half-time, it wasn’t just against the run of play, nor just the first moment of real quality that Die Werkself produced. It was the first time they’d actually touched the ball in the Wolfsburg penalty area.

Even when Kevin Volland – one of their few playerswith relegation battle experience, but lucky to stay on after a horrible knee-high challenge on Josuha Guilavogui – bundled in a second, Korkut’s team never looked confident. Jakub Blaszczykowski, pushed further forward after Jonker brought on Christian Träsch to play right-back, rolled back the years, setting up the first for Gómez before winning the penalty from which the striker sealed his hat-trick. His pulsating run seemed to have been legally halted by Benjamin Henrichs but referee Deniz Aytekin, of Barcelona/PSG fame, thought otherwise and pointed to the spot, a decision Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Völler described as “ridiculous”.

Korkut may have been a surprising appointment for a team that always looked as if it needed leadership, but it’s hard not to think he’s doing the job so far with one hand tied behind his back. He missed Javier Hernández here, injured on international duty with Mexico, has his best player Hakan Çalhanoglu serving a Cas-imposed ban, and there was confirmation this weekend that Lars Bender will miss the rest of the season with an ankle problem.

Somehow, anyhow, he and they must find a way to win at rock-bottom Darmstadt on Wednesday, bearing in mind Torsten Frings’s doomed side beat a similarly rudderless Mainz in their last home game. Wolfsburg, as they prepare to host Freiburg, have reason for optimism, having grasped their dramatic change in circumstances far more effectively.

Talking points

• A curious aspect of the scramble to avoid the relegation play-offs, with just three points dividing Augsburg in 16th and Leverkusen in 11th, is that three of the big names fighting to get away are in great form. Wolfsburg’s draw extended their run under Jonker to four unbeaten, Bremen’s excellent 5-2 win at Freiburg (led by an unlikely Thomas Delaney hat-trick) was their fifth win in the last six games and Lewis Holtby’s wildly-celebrated last-ditch goal for Hamburg against Köln gave them a third victory in four.

• Not that the bottom two are completely resigned to their fate, or at least not second-bottom Ingolstadt, who beat Mainz to move within seven points of third-bottom. For freefalling Mainz, the gravity of their situation was underlined by a fan, who came on the pitch and infiltrated the team huddle to give them an impassioned pep talk, which the players seemed to appreciate, with defender Stefan Bell saying it was just what the doctor ordered. “Everyone has to give 100% and,” admitted Bell, “we haven’t done that half the time.”

• It was all about heads in the Revierderby between Schalke and Dortmund, with Die Königsblauen’s coach Markus Weinzierl losing his on the touchline after referee Felix Zwayer declined to give his team a stoppage-time penalty – with the score 1-1 – for Marc Bartra’s handball. He was sent off for his protests, while team mascot Erwin is in hot water for showing a red card to Zwayer after the whistle, which costume wearer Holger Becker claims he found on the pitch and was simply returning. DFB disciplinary committee chairman Dr Anton Nachreiner has pledged to review the incident. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, meanwhile, covered his own bonce with a self-designed mask after opening the scoring for Dortmund – angering the club’s kit sponsors Puma, as the headgear was produced by the striker’s personal patron Nike. Aubameyang, who now has 24 Bundesliga goals this season, is expected to be disciplined by BVB. Schalke are only five points above the relegation play-off place themselves, and visit Bremen in this Englische Woche.

• Robert Lewandowski is tied with Aubameyang on top of the scoring charts after enjoying Saturday against his favourite punchbag Augsburg. His hat-trick in Bayern’s 6-0 win means he now has 16 in 12 matches against their fellow Bavarians, one every 62 minutes for the time he’s played in those fixtures. Thiago Alcântara, though, was again man of the hour, setting up Lewandowski’s first before scoring himself and pinging the crossbar from way out.

• Hoffenheim are up to third after Friday’s excellent win at Hertha Berlin, which was lit up by Bayern-bound Nicklas Süle’s piledriver to give them the lead in the closing stages. Andrej Kramaric, turfed out of Leicester by Claudio Ranieri, scored twice in the 3-1 win, which left Hertha coach Pal Dardai admitting the Champions League is “too much for us” after they fell seven points adrift of the top four. Julian Nagelsmann’s team, meanwhile, have a mouthwatering tussle with Bayern to look forward to on Tuesday.

• Eintracht Frankfurt still have the prospect of Europe on the horizon despite a seventh Bundesliga game without a win – they played well against Mönchengladbach, whose coach Dieter Hecking took the blame for their poor display. Eintracht’s boss Niko Kovac, meanwhile, said he had “to hold the tears in” after Marco Fabián’s penalty miss, one of a series of wasted chances – though a victory against Köln on Wednesday will take them back into the top six.

• Leipzig pulled themselves out of their mini-slump against Darmstadt, winning 4-0 after Oliver Burke – on a rare start with Timo Werner injured – got away with a handball in the buildup to Naby Keita’s opener, which was probably just the stroke of luck they needed after straight defeats.

Results: Ingolstadt 2-1 Mainz, Bayer Leverkusen 3-3 Wolfsburg, Bayern Munich 6-0 Augsburg, Schalke 1-1 Borussia Dortmund, Hamburg 2-1 Köln, RB Leipzig 4-0 Darmstadt, Freiburg 2-5 Werder Bremen, Eintracht Frankfurt 0-0 Borussia Mönchengladbach, Hertha Berlin 1-3 Hoffenheim.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Andy Brassell, for theguardian.com on Monday 3rd April 2017 11.32 Europe/London

1 Bayern Munich 26 54 65
2 RB Leipzig 26 19 52
3 TSG Hoffenheim 26 23 48
4 Borussia Dortmund 26 27 47
5 Hertha Berlin 26 2 40
6 Cologne 26 7 37
7 Eintracht Frankfurt 26 -1 37
8 SC Freiburg 26 -13 35
9 Schalke 04 26 5 34
10 Borussia M'gladbach 26 -4 33
11 Bayer Leverkusen 26 -3 32
12 Werder Bremen 26 -7 32
13 Wolfsburg 26 -11 30
14 Hamburg 26 -21 30
15 Mainz 26 -9 29
16 Augsburg 26 -16 29
17 FC Ingolstadt 26 -18 22
18 Darmstadt 26 -34 15

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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