Schalke kept up the pace with Bayer Leverkusen and moved a point ahead of SC Freiburg, as they played to a 2-2 draw at the Veltins Arena. Goals from Teemu Pukki and Raffael in the final 20 minutes of the match saw Schalke come from behind to earn a valuable point against 10-man Leverkusen.
Jens Keller’s side played in their traditional 4-2-3-1, but the Schalke manager was forced to make a few changes to the squad that defeated Werder Bremen last weekend. Raffael replaced the injured Jefferson Farfán, while Christoph Moritz started in the midfield, in place of suspended Roman Neustädter.
Sami Hyypia and Sascha Lewandowski’s men played in a 4-3-3, which saw the duo make three changes to the side that drew with Wolfsburg last weekend. Michal Kadlec, Simon Rolfes and Ömer Toprak replaced Daniel Schwaab, Stefan Reinartz and Sebastian Boenisch. Sidney Sam, Stefan Kießling and Andre Schürrle started upfront, while Lars Bender and Gonzalo Castro joined Rolfes in midfield.
Leverkusen was the superior side for most of this match and although Keller’s second half substitutions didn’t have a tactical impact, they played a key role in both goals.
The opening minutes of the match allowed the sides to feel each other out, as both were quite conservative with their pressing. Schalke allowed the Leverkusen defenders to have the ball as they pressed the midfield, which forced Leverkusen to play long-balls over the top, coped with easily by the Schalke defence. Schürrle, Kießling and Sam did an exceptional job in pressing the Schalke defenders, forcing them to concede possession in the final third. This led to a chance in the eighth minute, when Rolfes and Schürrle combined, but Schürrle produced a weak shot, that Timo Hildebrand easily saved. When Leverkusen didn’t press high, they dropped off into a 4-4-2 and pressed the midfield.
Instead of attempting to take the game to Leverkusen, they also opted to drop into a 4-4-2 with two narrow banks of four, and aimed to break on the counter. In the 10th minute, Julian Draxler broke down the wing, skipped past two defenders, and forced goalkeeper Bernd Leno into making a great save. This approach left striker Ciprian Marica isolated, but with Leverkusen pushing so many players forward, Michel Bastos, Draxler and Raffael had space to exploit. Although this approach meant that Leverkusen were vulnerable on the counter attack, most of Schalke’s shots came from a distance and were comfortably saved by Leno.
With both sides dropping into two compact and narrow banks of four throughout the game, there was plenty of space in wide areas and the central strikers were nullified.
Daniel Carvajal often got into advanced positions, but was unable to trouble Hildebrand. Sam and Schürrle were the key men in the first half, receiving balls in wide areas, taking on defenders, and getting into good positions in the final third.
Both sides were struggling to build from the back, which was why Schalke chose to play on the counter, but Leverkusen decided to take another route. Bender, Rolfes and Castro had a numerical advantage in the midfield, and both men took turns dropping deeper to receive the ball and start plays.
Leverkusen had most of the possession, creating the better chances, and in the 39th minute they were rewarded with their goal. Bender got into an advanced position and delivered a cross that the unmarked Rolfes nodded past Hildebrand. Keller’s men were furious as the referee failed to stop the game and Leverkusen refused to kick the ball out of play, as Marica was on the ground hurt prior to the goal after a clash of heads with Kießling. Leverkusen looked threatening in the first half as Schalke failed to create clear-cut goal scoring opportunities on the counter.
Leverkusen continued their dominance in the second half, as Keller’s men allowed Leverkusen’s midfield three to receive and play balls freely. The away side doubled their lead 11 minutes into the half, when Kadlec’s free kick soared past every player in the box, and bounced into the net. Leverkusen initially dropped into a 4-5-1 without the ball, allowing Schalke to hold possession. Leverkusen looked certain to claim three points, and build a seven-point gap between themselves and Schalke.
At the 65th minute, Keller introduced Teemu Pukki and Christian Fuchs for Moritz and Marica. As Leverkusen dropped deeper, space became available for Marco Höger to move into in order to receive the ball.
Höger became the main outlet for Schalke going forward and the German combined well with Bastos and the now-advancing Atsuto Uchida. Most of Schalke’s attack came down the right flank, and it led to both goals in the final 20 minutes.
In the 71st minute, Bastos cut in from the right flank and hit a thunderous shot that was saved by Leno, but the German goalkeeper spilled his rebound at Pukki’s mercy, who tapped the ball in from close range. Fifteen minutes later, substitute Max Meyer played a delightful ball into Pukki from the right flank, and Toprak tripped the Finnish striker in the box. Toprak was sent off, and Brazilian midfielder Raffael duly converted the penalty to level the game. Leverkusen used their subs to introduce defensive-minded players and not only did it allow Schalke back in the game but it also cost them lost two valuable points.
Leverkusen were the better side prior to their second goal, and dropping deeper to preserve their lead is what cost them three vital points. Keller’s substitutions paid off as those players were involved in both goals, and Höger’s influence on the match, combining with Uchida and Bastos on the right flank, was pivotal.
Schalke struggled to create legitimate goal-scoring chances, but were able to take their chances when they were presented. The win now puts them one point ahead of Freiburg, and keeps them in the hunt for the final automatic Champions League spot. With five games to go, it looks like the race for Champions League football may go down to the final game against Freiburg, and with a few teams behind them, Keller knows that his men can’t afford to drop points at this stage.
Hyypia and Lewandowski will be disappointed with their men as they gave up a two-goal lead and a chance to build a seven-point lead on Schalke – potentially clinching third place. Leverkusen were in control of the match, and their choice to sit back and defend their lead, came back to haunt them. However, they now extend their unbeaten streak to three games and, with favourable upcoming fixtures, it would be a surprise to see them finish outside of the top four.
Schalke 04 (4-2-3-1): Hildebrand, Kolašinac, Höwedes, Matip, Uchida; Moritz (Fuchs, 66′), Höger; Bastos (Meyer, 85′), Raffael, Draxler; Marica (Pukki, 66′)
Bayer Leverkusen (4-3-3): Leno, Carvajal, Wollscheid, Toprak, Kadlec; Rolfes, Bender, Castro (Hosogai, 83′); Sam (Hegeler, 71′), Kießling, Schürrle (Schwaab, 88′)
Referee: M. Gräfe
Venue: VELTINS-Arena (61619 spectators)
Header courtesy of welt.de
Graphics courtesy of FourFourTwo Stat Zone
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