Leverkusen are now in fourth place with a three-point lead over the chasing pack thanks to goals from Julian Brandt and Javier Hernandez. Roger Schmidt's side have won their last four Bundesliga games.
Cologne 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen
(Brandt 39', Hernandez 44')
Bayer Leverkusen took a considerable step towards Champions League qualification with a 2-0 win over Cologne on Sunday. Roger Schmidt's side picked up all three points and snatched fourth place from Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Despite Leverkusen's comfortable win - the club's fourth in a row in the Bundesiga - the game kicked off on an even footing for both sides. Cologne went searching for a return to form and matched their guests for the opening 30 minutes, looking for their third win of 2016.
Despite a relatively quiet start to the game it was only a matter of time before Leverkusen's form and quality began to shine through. Five minutes before the halftime break, Jonathan Tah hit a pass down the middle of the pitch to Hakan Calhanoglu, and the Turkish international played a one-touch pass to Karim Bellarabi. The winger then chipped the ball through to Julian Brandt who volleyed home to finish a superb Leverkusen counter attack.
Any hope Cologne had of recomposing themselves at the break faded away quickly as Javier Hernandez doubled Leverkusen's lead with 44 minutes on the clock. This time it was Brandt supplying the service, with his cross finding Bellarabi in the Cologne box. The winger then picked up his second assist of the day by laying the ball off to his Mexican teammate to run in and tap the ball past Timo Horn.
Leno saves the day
One complaint Schmidt could have had at full time was the complacent nature of his side in the second half. With their two-goal advantage, Leverkusen sat back and allowed their hosts to take the game to them, a risky tactic. Cologne got a sniff at goal before long, Simon Zoller forcing a great save from Bernd Leno before the hour mark. Shortly thereafter, Leonardo Bittencourt danced past two Leverkusen defenders before failing to get his shot beyond Leno.
Cologne kept the Leverkusen keeper busy throughout the half. He was forced to pull off another outstanding save when substitute Marcel Hartel volleyed towards the Leverkusen goal with just five minutes to go. The ball looked destined for the top right corner, before Leno managed to get a hand to it and parry it wide. The hosts would continue to pepper Leno's goal until the end of the game, but their efforts proved futile against the talented shot-stopper.
A late skirmish between the two teams saw a straight red card for Bittencourt and a second yellow for Wendell, but Leverkusen were full of smiles at full time. Brandt and Hernandez had guided their side to a winning position, but it was Leno's nine saves which confirmed all three points for Schmidt's side as they continue their pursuit of Champions League football.