Pre-game rumors that Leverkusen manager Roger Schmidt was on the brink of the sack proved to be unfounded. But his side's 3-0 win disguised persistent problems at Leverkusen.
The chatter which circulated around the BayArena ahead of kick-off on Saturday afternoon summed up just how precarious Roger Schmidt's position as Bayer Leverkusen manager is. According to a report, which allegedly began with broadcaster SKY Deutschland, discussions at board level had already decided Schmidt's fate - he would be losing his job this weekend regardless of how his team fared against high-flying Eintracht Frankfurt.
Former Bayer CEO Wolfgang Holzhäuser, now a board member at the club, moved quickly to deny the rumor, telling news agency SID: "There's absolutely no chance of that."
Sporting director Rudi Völler, not one for carefully weighing up a delicate situation when a direct statement will do, added his dissent post-match. "Simply making things up and reporting complete lies? I am extremely disappointed in SKY," he said, before demanding an apology from the broadcaster, whose presenters on location in Leipzig were forced to distance themselves from the reports and insist that nothing was confirmed.
No smoke without fire
But there's no smoke without fire. Despite navigating their Champions League group comfortably enough, Schmidt's Leverkusen have struggled to find their way in the Bundesliga.
The first suggestions that the powers-that-be at Leverkusen may have been considering a change came just before Christmas when, on the back of a humiliating 2-1 home defeat to second-bottom Ingolstadt, the "Werkself" travelled down the Rhine to Cologne, whose fans were salivating at the prospect of sealing the sacking of their arch-rival's manager with a derby win.
The game finished 1-1 and Schmidt kept his job over the winter break, but two defeats in four since the re-start have put the pressure back on. After first throwing away a 2-0 lead at home to Borussia Mönchengladbach and then slipping to a tepid 1-0 defeat at struggling Hamburg, questions were once again being asked about Schmidt's plan - and indeed whether he even has one.
On Friday, Germany's BILD newspaper had floated the names of Guus Hiddink, Roberto Mancini, Markus Anfang and Bernd Hollerbach as potential subjects of the board's "secret" enquiries.
Reliance on individual brilliance
Leverkusen fans are well aware of the quality of football their team is capable of but there is a sneaking suspicion that they are too reliant on the brilliance of star individuals. And when the likes of Javier Hernandez, Kevin Kampl, Kevin Volland & co don't perform, they lack a plan as a team - a situation now made worse by Hakan Calhanoglu's six-month ban for breach of contract.
Against Frankfurt however, Leverkusen's big game players delivered big game displays when their team needed it most. Hernandez, who, prior to his header against Borussia Mönchengladbach last week hadn't scored since matchday six, pounced to open the scoring after just five minutes.
Just after the hour mark, Leverkusen did look like a team. Brandt showed quick feet on the left before cutting back to Kampl, who switched the play to Bellarabi on the right wing. The German crossed first time on the volley and Chicharito demonstrated his goal-scoring instincts to poke home from close-range. A genuine team goal that encapsulated what a Roger Schmidt eleven is capable of.
Nevertheless, when Volland made it 3-0 late on, a seemingly comfortable scoreline didn't tell the whole story. Leverkusen's key men had stepped up to the plate when needed but this was still far from a convincing overall performance. Indeed, were it not for Bernd Leno's first half heroics, the half-time score could have been very different and Schmidt would have been forced to impose some sort of game plan which had, up until that point, been absent.
"Are you trying to provoke me?" Schmidt had asked journalists at the pre-game press conference on Friday, clearly feeling the pressure which was only ramped up again by Saturday's unfounded rumor. His team's response has kept him in a job - for now.