ESchalke’s encouraging series came to an end on Saturday after two wins and six draws in the second half of the Bundesliga season. Bayer 04 Leverkusen prevented a sequel and deservedly won 3-0 in Gelsenkirchen thanks to the higher individual class and goals from Frimpong (50th minute), Wirtz (61st) and Azmoun (90+2).
A success and a result that initially lost importance because a Schalke fan died in the south stand despite all attempts at resuscitation (see box at the end of this article). The expressions of condolence from the two coaches highlighted how insignificant a football game can be in the face of a sudden death.
While coach Xabi Alonso’s team is seventh in the table for the first time in a long time and is in a position that could be sufficient for participation in the Conference League next season, the team continues to strive for higher things. The gap to fourth place in the Champions League, currently occupied by SC Freiburg, is just seven points eight games before the end of the day.
“We want to be spoilsports”
Schalke, on the other hand, remain in 17th place in the relegation zone and now have to prove that the clear defeat against the Werkself has not left any traces. After the clear defeat, coach Thomas Reis pointed out that “not much had happened” and that his team was “still in touch” with the competition.
“We want to be spoilsports,” he announced before the game against the Rhinelanders, whom he greeted with a big compliment “on” Schalke: “There isn’t much better in the Bundesliga at the moment than Bayer 04 Leverkusen.” Against the team, that had defeated FC Bayern Munich 2-1 on the previous day and thus triggered the separation of the champions from coach Julian Nagelsmann, the Westphalians didn’t want to shine, but instead continued to score points in the second half of the season, as they have always done up to now.
“We just want to win”
On the other hand, coach Xabi Alonso fondly recalled his debut as Bundesliga coach, which seemed promising on October 8, 2022 with a 4-0 home win over the Royal Blues. The weaker performances afterwards, which threw Bayer 04 back to the edge of the relegation zone, made it clear how difficult the constructive reconstruction of the Europa League quarter-finalists in the league was for the former world star in defensive midfield.
Bayer 04 are now notoriously successful again. “We just want to win,” Alonso had soberly considered his goal for the day. “If we play well, that would be great. If we have to work hard, we will do that too.” Bayer played well and worked hard for success – a prerequisite for further victories. Alonso then saw the door opener for everything else in 1-0. “This goal was very important to get a little more space and confidence.”
Sports director Simon Rolfes gave extra praise to Florian Wirtz, the playmaker with striker quality who had been missing for months due to a cruciate ligament rupture. Looking back on Wirtz’s most recent appearance in the national shirt, when he was substituted in the first half of the 3-2 defeat by Belgium, the former international said: “Scoring a goal straight away is always the best. Florian plays a central role in our game.” Wirtz has met Schalke for the first time since his injury in the league.
Especially at the beginning of the game, the Rhinelanders had to defend themselves against the robust Schalke, whose commitment, as always in the past few weeks, was beyond any doubt. When in doubt, Reis’ strong team looked for a way forward without becoming a fire threat before the break. In contrast to the Leverkuseners, whose selective goal opportunities seemed more dangerous. However, since Schalke 04 can rely on a great goalkeeper in the rediscovered Ralf Fährmann these weeks, the long-time goalkeeper made three excellent saves on goal from Leverkusen.
Make way for more Bayer goals
The Werkself became concrete in the second half. After Adli failed again at the time of the ferryman and seconds later the Leverkusen top sprinter Frimpong was there after Tapsoba’s through ball and Diaby’s cross and scored the 1-0 from a short goal distance, the way was clear for more goals.
And so the game was as good as decided after about an hour when, after a one-two with Adli, Wirtz elegantly asserted himself against all attempts by the Schalke goal defenders to defend himself and pushed the ball past Fährmann with the pike to make it 2-0. Substitute Azmoun rounded off the clear win with his headed goal to make it 3-0 in added time. There were no longer any doubts about the long-deserved success.