Leverkusen have moved up to sixth in the table and now sit just two points off fourth after an impressive 2-0 win at Stuttgart. Young midfielder Julian Brandt was key to his side's return to form.
Stuttgart 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen
(Brandt 11', Bellarabi 49')
A convincing win and a performance to match have eased the pressure on Roger Schmidt at Leverkusen and lifted his side back in to Champions League contention.
A tame exit from the Europa League and indifferent recent Bundesliga form had seen Leverkusen drop to seventh before Sunday's game but a commanding team display featuring well-worked goals from Julian Brandt and Karim Bellarabi will have gone some way to dispelling any dark clouds hovering over the club. For hosts Stuttgart, the loss leaves them in eleventh place but just five points clear of the second relegation spot.
The visitors got off to a bright start and took the lead with just 11 minutes gone courtesy of a precise, passing move. Stefan Kießling found Bellarabi just outside the box and the winger's smart through ball allowed Brandt to drive low past Przemysław Tytoń’s outstretched left-hand.
Leverkusen continued to threaten after taking the lead, demonstrating a fluency that hadn't been evident in their game in recent weeks - both Brandt and Kießling forced Tyton in to sharp saves before the interval.
But Stuttgart showed enough attacking ambition in the opening period to suggest they might add to the eight goals they'd grabbed in their previous two games. Their best chance of the half came in the 40th minute when Timo Werner jinked into space in the area before stinging Leno's palms from 15 yards. The German under-21 international did well to create space for himself but demonstrated a familiar inability to convert.
But it was the visitors who sprung out of the traps early in the second half. In a reversal of their roles for the opener Brandt, a huge threat until substituted shortly before full time, found Bellarabi after a surging run through midfield. Bellarabi made no mistake, drilling across goal to give Leverkusen a two goal cushion in the 49th minute.
Stuttgart replaced Daniel Didavi with Artem Kravets shortly after but weren't able to regain a foothold in the game. With Leverkusen growing in confidence, Brandt should have settled the game shortly before the hour mark when he burst through for a one-on-one with Tytoń. But this time the impressive 19-year-old could only hit the post.
Leverkusen struck the woodwork again in the 65th minute, when Vladen Yurchenko latched on to a loose ball and hammered it against the crossbar. Bayer were almost made to pay for their profligacy when Leno was forced into a series of saves, three of them from Alex Maxim, as Stuttgart sought a way back in to the match.
As the hosts poured forward, Leverkusen looked to counter. The stretched nature of the game played in to the pacy Brandt's hands and the attacking midfielder had another chance to put the game to rest in the 77th minute but fired straight at the keeper's legs after being set free by Hernandez.
In the end it didn't matter, with Stuttgart failing to stage any kind of late rally. Schmidt is sure to be delighted by his side's performance and in particular the menace of Brandt, who could yet play a big part in the race for European football.