Goals from Lucas Alario and Julian Brandt gave Bayer Leverkusen a 2-0 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach. Heiko Herrlich's 'Werkself' again demonstrated a variety of attacking options that Dieter Hecking's Foals lack.
When Bayer Leverkusen defender Wendell almost headed into his own net in the 89th minute, it constituted Borussia Mönchengladbach's most dangerous chance of the game.
A late equalizer might have pleased the 4,000 travelling supporters but it would have been grossly unfair on Heiko Herrlich's home team who had demonstrated over the previous 88 minutes just why they look likely to return to Champions League football next season.
As it was, Bernd Leno pulled off a reflex save to spare the Brazilian's blushes, before Julian Brandt's injury-time goal wrapped up the win to put the Werkself nine points clear of their Rhineland neighbors.
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Leverkusen's 47 goals this season have come from 14 different scorers, demonstrating a variety of attacking options that Gladbach simply haven't been able to match at any point this season – and so it proved again on Saturday.
While Gladbach often worked the ball well through midfield from Denis Zakaria to Lars Stindl, their half-hearted attacks quickly broke down due to a lack of options in the final third. Raul Bobadilla and Vincenzo Grifo were the chief culprits.
Bobadilla returned to the starting XI against Borussia Dortmund three weeks ago as Dieter Hecking looked to solve his team's scoring problem; no other side in the top half has scored fewer goals. But the Paraguayan was as ineffective in that defeat as he was against Leverkusen, losing possession and generally making precious little impact on the game until he was replaced by Jonas Hofmann in the second half.
Grifo, making only his ninth league start of the season, still looks out of his depth since his move from Freiburg. A weak shot in the sixth minute and a failed attempt to beat Julian Baumgartlinger midway through the half constituted his most notable contributions as the German-Italian showed little to suggest he is a player of the caliber needed to propel Borussia Mönchengladbach back into European football.
Bailey leads the way for Leverkusen
The hosts' attacking threat was more pronounced and came predominantly through Kai Havertz and, predictably, Leon Bailey. But the winger started the evening on the left, somewhat neutralizing his ability to cut inside onto his dangerous left foot.
Still, that was no excuse for the chance he wasted in the 24th minute. After claiming a Gladbach corner, Leno quickly launched the counter-attack with an accurate throw to Bailey. The Jamaican easily outpaced the retreating Stindl but shot wildly, ignoring Kevin Volland who was screaming for the ball in space to his right.
When Bailey switched to the right wing ten minutes before half-time, he immediately set about doing what he does best. First, he cut onto his left and crossed towards Volland but the German headed wide under pressure from Jannik Vestergaard.
Three minutes later, the pair repeated the combination but this time Volland nodded the ball back into the danger zone where Lucas Alario smashed it home. A Jamaican flag was unfurled in the lower tier of the west stand – and no wonder; the boy from Kingston had done it again.
Variety is the spice of life
Such is the variety in Heiko Herrlich's squad, the Leverkusen coach felt able to shuffle his pack in the second half, replacing Bailey with the equally dangerous Brandt.
In contrast, Dieter Hecking's attacking substitutions consisted of replacing Tony Janschke with Michael Cuisance and his best player Denis Zakaria with Josip Drmic. In fairness, it almost paid off with eight minutes remaining when Hofmann found Drmic with a cross from the right but the unmarked Swiss striker somehow headed wide.
With five defeats and only four points from their last seven games, only Hamburg and Wolfsburg have worse "Rückrunde" records than Gladbach and Hecking was right not to comment on his team's chances of qualifying for Europe.
He preferred instead to concentrate on what his own team had lacked, admitting: "Precisely that which Leverkusen did so well. They were more confident on the ball and had more pace on the break."