Bayer Leverkusen have had an inconsistent season, to say the least, but took out their frustrations on FC Augsburg Saturday at the Bay Arena, dominating the second half for a comprehensive 4-1 win that keeps them in line for a Europa League spot. Following their good effort in their disappointing 3-1 loss Tuesday at home to FC Barcelona in Champions League play, Saturday’s win was a boost that Die Werkself and Coach Robin Dutt needed.
It hasn’t been an easy season for Leverkusen. Following their 2nd place finish last year in the Bundesliga, new coach Robin Dutt perhaps set expectations too high for a club that has been plagued by injury, a lack of squad depth and controversy, particularly regarding Germany’s iconic midfielder Michael Ballack and his role on the club. Dutt has been under fire, and although they performed well in advancing from Champions League group play, drawing Barcelona in the first knockout round was less than fortunate.
Meanwhile FC Augsburg have struggled in their first season in the Bundesliga’s top-tier. Their performance thus far hasn’t been a disaster, as Jos Luhukay’s club had gained results in twelve of their first 21 matches, but the inability to finish has burdened the club with nine draws and only three victories. With fellow-relegation zone clubs SC Freiburg and 1. FC Kaiserslautern also struggling to put wins together, Augsburg went into the match tied at the bottom of the Bundesliga on points with those two clubs.
First Half Equality
Augsburg got off to a bright start, as Japanese midfielder Hajime Hosogai had a good opportunity on goal in only the second minute from a corner kick, but shot just wide and ten minutes later had a through ball chance originating from Hosagai nullified by an offside call on Sascha Mölders. But Leverkusen began taking the game to Augsburg, as long-absent Renato Augusto forced a save from Simon Jentzsch on a tough angle shot midway through the first half before Stefan Kießling opened the scoring two minutes later, heading in a cross from Gonzalo Castro. Leverkusen continued in search of a second goal during the first 45 minutes, but chances by André Schürrle, Kießling were saved by Jentzsch and a Castro attempt from Kießling went wide of goal. Augsburg finished the half on a positive note, winning two late corner kicks, but an attempt by Sebastian Langkamp was saved by Leverkusen’s Bernd Leno while a header by Hosagai was blocked.
Second Half Inequality
Augsburg started the second half on a very positive note. After Jentzsch saved another Schürrle chance three minutes after the second half kickoff, Wolfsburg loanee Koo Ja-Cheo found the Augsburg equalizer in the 50th minute, as he beat Leno with a right-footed shot from outside the box provided by Mölders. The match certainly seemed there for Augsburg to gain another draw.
But Leverkusen showed a fighting spirit that bodes well for the remainder of the campaign. Refusing to share points with a relegation zone side, Leverkusen won multiple free kicks from fouls and kept the pressure on until Castro found a goal at the hour mark from Lars Bender to put Die Werkself up 2-1. It was Castro’s second goal of the season, and opened the floodgates as Kießling earned his brace four minutes later from a ball provided by Schürrle. Kießling returned the favor in the 70th minute, as he provided Schürrle. With the lead secured, Dutt was able to give some valuable minutes to a trio of youngsters — Danny Da Costa, Karim Ballarabi and loanee Michael Ortega from Mexican side Club Atlas, the 20 year-old Colombian who earned his Bundesliga debut.
After a valiant hour of play, Augsburg had little left to offer against the more talented Leverkusen side. Leverkusen dominated possession in the match, 64% -36% while doubling Augsburg’s six shots and tripling their three shots on frame, forcing Jentzsch into five saves. Augsburg fouled 21 times to 9 accumulated by Leverkusen, and four Augsburg players received yellow cards while Die Werkself received no disciplinary cards.
For Bayer Leverkusen and Robin Dutt, it was a very rewarding Saturday. Keeping a feisty FC Augsburg side at bay and then showing a killer instinct to dispatch them without mercy in the second half was a nice rebound from Tuesday’s Champions League frustrations. Stefan Kießling had a masterful game, as all three of his shots were on frame, resulting in two goals, and he also assisted on Schürrle’s goal. Moreover, the former Nürnberg striker drew four fouls while committing only one, was called only once for offside and cleared a dangerous Augsburg ball from out of the front of Leverkusen’s goal.
The win helps Leverkusen keep pace with Werder Bremen behind this season’s big four in the race for European spots. Leverkusen play at FC Koln next weekend before their showdown with Bayer Leverkusen at the Bay Arena.
For Augsburg and Jos Luhukay, a solid effort for an hour went for naught as they couldn’t match up talent-wise with a determined Leverkusen side. Augsburg often seem so soooo close to being a pretty decent club not fighting relegation, but they just can’t get over the hump and score the goals they need to prosper. With Freiburg picking up a surprising point against Bayern Munich in the late Saturday match, Augsburg are now tied in points at the bottom of the table with Freiburg and Kaiserslautern, although FCK have only a -12 goal differential compared to Augsburg’s -17 and Freiburg’s -20. With Nurnberg getting three points Saturday, only Hertha Berlin are near enough in the table for Augsburg to pass in the table and find some breathing space. Augsburg will host the Berliners next weekend,but with Otto Rehagel taking over the Old Lady, one thinks that Hertha will get their act together quickly and be tough to beat, especially after their brave encounter with holders Borussia Dortmund Saturday.