Bayer Leverkusen 4 Hertha Berlin 2: Werkself come back twice in six-goal thriller

Bayer Leverkusen recorded their second victory of the season and moved up to the top spot in the Bundesliga after a hard-earned 4-2 victory against Hertha Berlin in a match they had to come from behind on two occasions. Goals by Jedvaj, Spahić, Brandt and Bellarabi, all in the second half, were enough to see Roger Schmidt’s side take all three points and show that Die Werkself mean business this season despite showing some defensive frailties.

Jedvaj, hero and villain but shows promise

Young Croatian full-back Tin Jedvaj, on loan from AS Roma, has taken over Giulio Donati’s spot at right-back this season and although he’s a rough diamond at the moment, he’s showing glimpses of becoming an excellent player. His performance today was a contrasted one although he came out of it looking well. Jedvaj opened the scoring with an own goal after trying to clear a cross from Julian Schieber, but his sliding tackle pushed the ball past a helpless Bernd Leno on 24 minutes.

However, Jedvaj did not hide from the ball after his own goal, something that would be common in an 18-year-old newcomer, and he continued to actively participate in play. His reward came five minutes into the second half after a fantastic through ball by Gonzalo Castro that saw Jedvaj sneak in behind the defense, push the ball past Rune Jarstein in the Hertha goal and slot it in for the equaliser.

Some could argue that Jedvaj was slightly at fault for Hertha’s second, as his sliding tackle on Nico Schulz, who was penetrating into the area on the left flank and assisted on the goal, was mistimed and poor but one must not forget that Jedvaj is just 18 years old and acclimatising to a new club and country. Schmidt took him off with 25 minutes to play but, despite everything, it was an encouraging performance by the former Dinamo Zagreb man.

Hertha managed just 3 shots on goal in the whole match, a stark contrast to Leverkusen’s 21. Their 49% pass-success rate didn’t help either.

Defensive mistakes, Leverkusen’s main problem

This was a match that Leverkusen looked in control of even when behind in the score. If they had been more solid defensively, they could have run away with it 4-0 or even more after hitting the post a few times. Nevertheless, that was not and is not the case and Roger Schmidt will have to look closely at which players are choosing to construct play and shouldn’t be due to their limited abilities and/or the fact that there are better players out there to do so.

It was Sebastian Boenisch who gave the ball away in his own half for Hertha’s first and he did it again for the visitors’ second, making it evident that he is one of the weakest links in this team, especially with the ball at his feet. Emir Spahić also allowed Schieber to put the cross in for the first and lost him for the second although, to cut him some slack, Leno’s poor parry left him wrong footed and allowed the former Dortmund striker to score a header at ease from two yards out. Spahić, like Jedvaj, redeemed himself seconds later with a similar headed goal from inside the box but it’s quite obvious to see where teams can harm Leverkusen this season.

Hertha’s lack of squad depth and poor decisions limiting second-half performances

At this early stage of the season, fitness levels aren’t at their fullest and therefore it’s easier to see which teams are fit and which aren’t. To combat lack of fitness you need depth in the squad to make the right substitutions at the right time but Hertha Berlin seem to be lacking in that department. Just like against Werder Bremen last week, their first half performance today was hugely contrasted with the second, in which they lacked bite and capacity to react and looked generally lethargic throughout. Julian Schieber’s goal was an isolated chance in what was an attacking monologue by Leverkusen throughout the second 45.

Hertha managed just 3 shots on goal in the whole game, a stark contrast to Leverkusen’s 21. Their poor possession stats might also have a lot to do with this, misplacing over 50% of them and managing to make just 111 all game long, compared to the home side’s 287 passes with a 68% success rate.

As well as having some key players out injured like Ronny, Alexander Baumjohann and Tolga Ciğerci, Luhukay has very little to choose from when he looks at the bench for a change. Marvin Plattenhardt, Sandro Wagner and ex-Leverkusen Jens Hegeler were the substitutes who came on today and as well as making zero impact, there’s little Hertha fans would expect from them anyway, especially against one of the league’s stronger sides. With Leverkusen dominating the game regardless of the score (the first Hertha substitute came in at 2-2), it was obvious who had momentum and who didn’t. Despite seeing that Leverkusen’s weakness lay in their full-backs, instead of bringing Änis Ben-Hatira for an tired-looking Roy Beerens or Nico Schulz to run at either Donati or Boenisch, Luhukay did a straight swap for his left-back, bringing on Plattenhardt for Johannes van den Bergh, a surprising choice. When Julian Brandt scored the third, it was game, set and match Leverkusen, even with 15 minutes to play in a high-scoring game.

This Leverkusen team can score goals and plenty of them and they don’t just come from the same man.

Çalhanoğlu leads new-look and exciting Leverkusen forward line

Overall, he didn’t have his best of games today but Hakan Çalhanoğlu doesn’t need to perform for a full 90 minutes in order to make an impact on a match. Two exquisite assists for Emir Spahić and Karim Bellarabi as well as a shot that hit the post exemplified why Leverkusen were so keen to fork out 14.5m€ for the former HSV playmaker. His set-pieces today weren’t at the level we have come to expect from him but with Leverkusen’s aerial power up front with Stefan Kießling and in set pieces with Simon Rolfes, Ömer Töprak, Spahić et al, opposition defences are constantly nervous when the ball falls to the Turkish playmaker.

Leverkusen’s former Torjägerkanone winner didn’t have a great game today but the fact that his side still scored four goes to show how much this team doesn’t solely rely on him anymore to produce the goals up front, also giving opposition defences more headaches on how to approach a defensive plan against Leverkusen.

A similar case with Son Heung-min, who was substituted at half-time after an anonymous first half. Julian Brandt replaced him and performed excellently, showing maturity beyond his age and consistently making all the right decisions, capping off his performance with a poacher’s effort that turned out to be the game-winning goal. Talking about decisions, Bellarabi didn’t have the best of first halves but his constant running, activity and direct style of play caused many problems to Hertha. He improved considerably in the second half and his beautiful volley for his side’s fourth goal was a well-deserved prize. This Leverkusen team can score goals and plenty of them and they don’t just come from the same man.

All in all, Leverkusen are a team to be reckoned with seriously this season thanks to their attacking prowess and solid midfield. However, it will be their defensive problems that will shape exactly how successful they are. As for Hertha, Alexander Baumjohann’s injury is a huge blow and they still don’t have a decent replacement for Adrián Ramos. Four goals scored in two matches is an excellent return, but when you concede as freely as they do, it’s hard to win football matches. Whether this is down to lack of fitness or quality, it will be seen in the next few weeks but there is plenty of things for Jos Luhukay to think about.

 

Header courtesy of dpa

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Aleix Gwilliam

Is a 27-year-old living in Barcelona who gets more pleasure from watching German lower-league football than from going to watch his hometown team at the Camp Nou every other week. Passionate about European football, its history and culture, you can follow him on Twitter at @AleixGwilliam

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