Bayer Leverkusen moved back in to the Champions League spots with a 4-1 win over RB Leipzig. Leverkusen's front four were razor sharp, with Julian Brandt, Leon Bailey, Kai Havertz and Kevin Volland all impressing.
RB Leipzig 1 – 4 Bayer Leverkusen
(Sabitzer 17‘, Havertz 45‘, Brandt 51‘, Retsos 56‘, Volland 69‘)
As half-time approached in Monday night’s game, it felt like Bayer Leverkusen’s season was starting to unravel. Then, with a stroke of Kai Havertz’ left foot, the dam broke and the men in red and black once again looked like one of the league’s most devastating attacking forces.
Successive blanks against Cologne and Augsburg looked to have undermined the confidence of Havertz and his attacking colleagues until the equalizer. Leon Bailey, Julian Brandt and Kevin Volland all oscillated between moments of sharp incision and comical wastefulness, particularly Bailey. Heads looked to have dropped after Marcel Sabitzer hammered in a half-volley after Yusuf Poulsen out-muscled his opponent.
But Bailey, probably the Bundesliga’s standout youngster this term, didn’t take long to make up for his earlier errors. After Leverkusen cleared a Leipzig corner, Bailey flew down the pitch, with Havertz bombing up in support. The young German midfielder struck the dropping cross sweetly to complete a rapid move that took just two passes to move the length of the pitch. It felt like a weight had been lifted.
The shackles were off and Leverkusen’s second wasn’t long in coming. Shortly after the break, Volland and then Havertz combined to bundle a long punt from keeper Bernd Leno through to Brandt, who – despite missing a similar chance in the first half – made no mistake this time round. Again the move took a matter of a few seconds to go from front to back.
Panagiotis Retsos made it three shortly later when he poked home a loose ball from a freekick. Leipzig had their moments but the visitors always looked threatening on the break. The pace, movement, interplay and sheer enjoyment of Leverkusen’s front four was shining through.
Volland got in on the act after a suicidal pass from Dayot Upamecano got Leipzig in all sorts of trouble. But, again, it was the speed of the attacking combinations that caught the eye. In a flash, the ball was sent to Brandt, who barely had to look up to know that Volland had dropped a yard. The Germany striker duly slotted in his 11th goal of the Bundesliga campaign and do his outside chances of a World Cup slot no harm at all.
Despite the impressive nature of their performance, Leverkusen’s work is far from done. With crunch clashes against Eintracht Frankfurt (5th) and Borussia Dortmund (3rd) in the next fortnight, their vibrant front four will need to keep their form and their heads.
The way Leverkusen tore his side apart with rapid, precise counterattacks must have made Leipzig boss Ralph Hasenhüttl pine for last year. His team are by no means out of the running for the Champions League, with the Europa League another avenue back in to Europe’s top competition. But, on the evidence of Monday night, there’s little doubt who the Bundesliga’s young entertainers are now.