A well-taken solo effort from German winger Kerim Bellarabi, with ten minutes to go until the half-time whistle at the Veltins Arena, sealed all three points for the visitors in their race for the highly-coveted UEFA Champions League spots. It was a rather cagey affair as the Royal Blues were not able to finish their chances, and Leverkusen certainly frustrated them throughout, holding firm with an essential clean sheet to ensure they took all three points; leapfrogging Borussia Monchengladbach who travel to defending champions Bayern Munich in tomorrow afternoon’s fixture in Munich.
Leverkusen defender Hilbert got the first yellow card of the match, for a tactical foul on young Max Meyer who was breaking with speed on the counter attack in the early going. He will miss their next matchday fixture, up against Hamburg after the international break.
Respective goalkeepers Bernd Leno (LEV) and Timon Wellenreuther (SCH) were called into action to deny goal-scoring efforts from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Bellarabi respectively, before the latter made the hosts pay in the 35th minute with a great strike beyond 19-year-old Wellenreuther. Simon Rolfes sent him on a run down the flank near the byline with a teasing ball, he weaved past two markers before cutting through into the box and smacking his effort in off the roof of the crossbar, to open the scoring in some style.
Schalke were unable to respond quickly enough before the break, and young promising striker Leroy Sané was replaced by Kevin-Prince Boateng just on the stroke of the half-time whistle in a tactical change before centre-back Kyriakos Papadopoulos also went into the referee’s book for a challenge on Huntelaar.
As the second-half began, Leverkusen made a double substitution; Calhanoglu and Toprak coming on in place of Son and Papadopoulous respectively. Austrian full-back Christian Fuchs had a superbly struck effort inches wide of Leno’s post, as Schalke upped the pressure on the visitors as the game went on.
Höger and Neustädter were both booked within quick succession before Leon Goretska was swiftly brought onto the field of play by the former Chelsea boss in an attacking-minded substitution.
A penalty decision was waved away by referee Peter Gagelmann as Bellarabi attempted to dribble his way past Ayhan in the area, before going to ground in the box. Just before that, winger Jefferson Farfan replaced Meyer for the closing stages, making his first senior team appearance for eight months following a serious injury lay-off, whilst Lars Bender came on in place of an ineffective Stefan Kiessling for Leverkusen.
In the last ten minutes of the match, Schalke continued to pile on the pressure, but eventually it came to no avail in the end. Boateng’s fierce goal-scoring effort was blocked by a Leverkusen wall of defenders in the box, with many Schalke players shouting at the referee for a penalty, as they felt it was handled in the air. Nothing was given, which just epitomises how their evening was overall. Frustrating, and in the end, Leverkusen stayed strong for a big victory.
As a result of the game, Schalke remain in 5th place – just below the Champions League qualification places but in contention for Europa League if they stay where they are for the rest of the season. 6th placed Augsburg lost away at Freiburg in the day’s earlier kick-off, meaning Roberto di Matteo‘s men were unable to capitalise and close the gap on the rivals ahead of them.