Since outclassing Real Madrid in the Champion's League two weeks ago, Bayer Leverkusen has been a shadow of its former self. In a high-profile game against Stuttgart Saturday, they continued their spiral.
Alexander Hleb and Stuttgart owned the midfield
The matchup was heralded as the Bundesliga's game of the week But someone forgot to tell Bayer Leverkusen.
The team, reeling since playing magical soccer against Real Madrid two weeks ago, had nothing much to show for itself and suffered a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of second-place Vfb Stuttgart in the Gottlieb-Daimler Stadium on Saturday.
Both teams were looking for a sign of life out of this game. Stuttgart failed to capture the top of the Bundesliga table and looked flat in their 0:0 game against Hertha Berlin last week. Bayer Leverkusen managed only a 2:2 against FC Nuremberg last week, and was eliminated from the League Cup on Wednesday by last year's champions Werder Bremen.
Stuttgart's control of the midfield led to their first goal, set up by a direct kick after a foul on Andreas Hinkel along the top of the penalty box line. The game had initially been up for grabs, with neither team taking the initiative in the opening ten minutes, which took place in pouring rain.
Lahm opens scoring
Stuttgart gave a taste of what was coming, though, when Brazlian Jeronimo Cacau sent a flat shot from the left side past Leverkusen goalie Jörg Butt. Only the goalpost kept Cacau and Stuttgart from taking the lead.
Four minutes later, Alexander Hleb lined up to take the direct kick. Butt managed to box it to the right of his goal, but Phillip Lahm was there and fired it from 16 meters out on the right side into the bottom right corner of the net for the 1-0.
Stuttgart continued their control of the midfield, as Bayer failed to come up with any noteworthy offensive plays. Bernd Schneider found the outstretched foot of his striker Dimitri Berbatov but the weak shot was gathered up easily by Timo Hildebrandt. Leverkusen had to wait 40 minutes to get their first corner.
"We slept through the first half"
A minute later, Stuttgart countered fiercely. Hinkel, one of the side's noteworthy players, charged down the right side of the field. His hard shot deflected off a Leverkusen player for a corner kick. The kick found the head of Martin Stranzl, who jumped higher than goalie Butt to tap it in from close to the right baseline.
Martin Stranzl, right, und Cacau celebrate Stranzl's goal to make it 2:0
"We slept through the first half," Bayer coach Klaus Augenthaler said after the game. "The commitment and conviction to get something going was simply missing."
Though exhibiting brief signs of life at the beginning of the second half, Leverkusen failed to set up any serious shots on goal. As the second half ticked away, Bayer's lackadaisical first half hurt them more and more.
The spark came from Stuttgart, whose players were better rested after playing back most of the second half in defense. After hard charges and shots from Christian Tiffert were parried away and gathered up by Butt, Hleb set up the last goal of the game when he was taken down in the penalty box.
Silvio Meissner converted the penalty shot in the waning seconds of the game for the final result. Leverkusen slipped to sixth place in the Bundesliga, while Stuttgart kept pace with first place team Wolfsburg.