Bayer Leverkusen 2 – 2 Hamburg – Comeback spoils the party for Leverkusen

Leverkusen’s miserable week was compounded after they squandered a two-goal lead and split the points against a Hamburg side growing in confidence. Schürrle and Bender gave Leverkusen the lead before Westermann pulled one back and Jansen completed the comeback in the second half. With two of the league’s most frantic defenses up against each other goals were almost guaranteed. In fact, there has not been a goalless result in the last 32 meetings between these two sides, an enticing prospect for the neutrals to say the least. Thorsten Fink will be the happier of the two coaches though after his side’s brave comeback and continued improvement, leaving Dutt to ponder just what he can do to remedy Leverkusen’s defensive woes.

Dutt was steadfast in his squad selection and fielded the same eleven that lost in Valencia midweek. Leverkusen are still without Adler, Renato Augusto and Barnetta, all of which played a big role last season, leaving them relatively thin on the bench. Fink made three changes. Mancienne and Diekmeier slotted into the backline for the suspended Rajkovic and the injured Bruma while Son started up front with Guerrero instead of Berg.

Leverkusen fluid in motion and Bender provides the framework

Leverkusen were the livelier and more dangerous side for much of the first half. Hamburg could not cope with the movement of Leverkusen’s front four in the first half hour in particular. They especially failed to get a leash on Schürrle who was openly switching flanks and causing mayhem every time he got on the ball. The opportunities piled on for Levekrusen and Schürrle made them count on five minutes after his free kick was deflected into the net. Leverkusen doubled their lead 15 minutes later when Schürrle pounced on a deflected shot by Ballack and picked out an onrushing Bender who escaped Aogo and pushed the ball over the line.

Visibly overwhelmed, Hamburg could have attempted to calm the tempo of the match but instead continued to throw caution into the wind and pushed forward. Just when it seemed as if Leverkusen were going to run away with the match, Hamburg found their lifeline. Westermann was left unmarked in the box and headed in an Aogo cross shortly after the half hour mark, setting up an inviting second half.

One of the most striking features of Leverkusen’s play against Hamburg, and throughout the season, is Bender’s role. Under Dutt, the former 1860 midfielder has more license to get forward and has become a critical part of Leverkusen’s game. Whereas he served as the side’s anchor for most of last season, Bender is slowly but surely replacing the box-to-box role held by the influential Vidal throughout the years. Always known as the more offensive minded Bender brother, his attacking game has improved significantly this season and given the right platform to excel.

Bender's tackles and runs in the first half.

Few players cover more ground in a game than Bender, making him the ideal candidate to fill the enormous vacuum left by Vidal. Bender’s forward runs are a big reason why Schürrle and Ballack can so easily switch positions, always knowing that Bender is available to make runs into the box or provide a central presence. Hamburg were also forced to play out wide as a result of Bender’s increasing influence in the middle.

Hamburg stay perseverant and make good use of their fullbacks

Hamburg deserve credit for their perseverence. At times it takes being a goal or two down before they are at their best but they have remained committed to attack under Fink. While that may be nerve wracking for the Hamburg supporters it does mean that they more or less stay competitive in matches until the final whistle. That enterprise is also what got Hamburg back in the match against Leverkusen. Another team may have bunkered after going down two goals within just 20 minutes, afraid to concede more, but Hamburg did not let up and replied to every Leverkusen attack with one of their own, whether it worked or not.

It was Dutt who actually played the defensive card, bringing on Reinartz for Sam after just 46 minutes. After having his goal waved off due to offside in the first half, Jansen ensured that his next chance would stand. Töre played a brilliant ball over the top Jansen timed his run to perfection and only had Leno to beat. The match leveled off in the last 15 minutes as Fink brought on the more defensive Tesche and Jarolim to fight off a late Leverkusen resurgance but Hamburg’s persistence paid off.

Under Fink they look a more concentrated side overall, which makes comebacks like this one possible. Fink also stated the importance of getting Hamburg’s fullbacks more involved in the game and under him they have played further up the pitch than usual with one of Kacar or Rincon dropping back to form a three man backline as the safety net. More importantly, it ensures that they maintain momentum in matches, even when going down two goals like they did against Leverkusen.

Aogo and Diekmeier's runs between the 20th and 60th minute

Hamburg made it a point to push Aogo and Diekmeier forward after Leverkusen’s second. In the process they pushed Castro and Kadlec back and switched the momentum in their favor. Töre and Jansen also had a free hand to create and come into the center. The approach is not entirely innovative but it is an aspect that has been lacking in Hamburg’s game and against Leverkusen very much paved the way for their comeback.

Final Verdict

Leverkusen’s failure to keep a clean sheet is becoming and increasingly worrying trait. They have kept a clean sheet in only one of their last eight league matches and still maintain a negative goal difference. For a side that was competing for the title last season they are becoming a bit too inconsistent. You would have to go back to August to find the last time Leverkusen won back-to-back matches in the league. Dutt revealed his frustration after the match, saying how it is unacceptable not to win matches in which you go two goals up, showing perhaps a glimmer of a fracture in what so far has been a stoic and confident Dutt. The decision to bring on Reinartz was also questionable in hindsight. Sam may not have had the best match but the substitution was more disruptive than productive.

Hamburg are still stuck in 17th place in the standings but are now unbeaten in their last four and have collected more points in that spell than their 8 previous matches. They do need to improve defensively though, remaining the only side in the league without a clean sheet but all signs point to them gradually getting there. That said, Fink’s vision is slowly coming together and despite the poor start, this performance hints at the potential of their young team.

Man of the Match

Lars Bender – Bender covered a staggering match high 12.65 km against Hamburg and scored his first goal of the season in the process. Important in laying the foundation of Leverkusen attacks and a strong presence defensively, Bender added to his already impressive campaign. In the wake of Vidal’s departure, Leverkusen looked dispirited and lethargic without the energy and presence of the Chilean but Bender is making as good a case as any for being the player to fill that void thanks to performances like this.

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

4 Comments

  1. I don’t think he’s going to have the impact Vidal had across the whole year but I think we’ll see Lars take more and more responsibility this season and “carry” the team more.

  2. I just wanted to add that the referee also did not whistle a very clear penalty opportunity for Lars Bender. Not so much to make excuses for Leverkusen, but rather to emphasize how many offensive opportunities Bender made for the team today.

  3. Bender progression as a player is one of the few positive notes of the Leverkusen side this season.
    You can say that the first 30 minutes were very good from us, but Hamburg seemed to be still sleeping from their trip to Leverkusen.

    The 2-1 and the Reinartz for Sam substitution put the game upside down, with a 2-0 to half-time and without this defensive substitution the 3 points would have been ours.

    Leno is returning to be human, he would have saved Jansen equalizer two weeks ago. I am worried that with a normal goalkeeper things could turn out even worse till the winter.

    Positive talk:

    We now get a needed break for two weeks. Without rotations and hardly alternatives the Werkself really needs to recharge their batteries. The Match plan in the Bundesliga is favourable, all the hard opponents are behind us.

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