Bayer Leverkusen became the first team in a year to beat VfB Stuttgart at the Mercedes-Benz Arena to move themselves, temporarily at least, into the Bundesliga’s top four.
Kai Havertz scored the first goal of the 2-0 win however Stuttgart, poor in the first half, responded after half-time, only to be constantly denied by a superb Bernd Leno.
With tensions palpable and coach Heiko Herrlich having been sent to the sends, skipper Lars Bender cured Leverkusen’s nerves as he headed in the second ten minutes before full-time.
Havertz pops up to score opener
Hosts Stuttgart, unbeaten at home since a loss to Hannover 96 last December, lost last time out to Werder Bremen and Hannes Wolf made three changes, bringing in Marcin Kaminski, Anastasios Donis and Simon Terodde. Herrlich’s Leverkusen, who went nine unbeaten in the Bundesliga with their 1-1 draw last weekend against Borussia Dortmund, made three changes as well, with Panagiotis Restos, Dominik Kohr and Admir Mehmedi coming in.
Leverkusen went for an attacking formation with three at the back whilst Leon Bailey and Mehmedi were active as wing-backs. They started brightly, with Bailey putting a shot from distance well over. Kevin Volland then pass through to Julian Brandt, but he hesitated over whether to shoot or cross and Holger Badstuber blocked his eventual shot.
Despite der Werkself dominating the goal came as a surprise when it did. One moment, Brandt and Bailey were combining on the left, before the Jamaican crossed and from nowhere in came Havertz to put the ball in the net. It was the 18-year-old’s first goal of the season.
The closest they came to a second was soon after, as Kohr struck wide. Stuttgart themselves, despite their impressive home form, offering very little threat in response, with Terodde up front not getting the service he needed.
Leno performs heroics before Bender settles nerves
Half-time had a transformative effort on both sides. Leverkusen replaced Retsos with Julian Baumgartlinger, with Bender dropping into defensive alongside brother Sven Bedner, whilst Stuttgart were playing as if they had had a rocket put up them by Wolf during his team talk. Inside the first minute, a cross from Donis was the most meaningful delivery they had had, and although it couldn’t quite find Terodde in the box, it was a sign of things to come.
A stunning strike from Emiliano Insúa almost brought them level, but it was met by an equally-brilliant save from Leno, who had been relatively untroubled beforehand. He then kept out a strike from Berkay Özcan and another powerful effort from Insúa in what was becoming one of the games of the Leverkusen goalkeeper’s career.
Herrlich responded with a tactical shift, Benjamin Henrichs replacing Mehmedi as they reverted to four at the back. It had a positive effect, with Bender heading a Jonathan Tah cross wide and Baumgartlinger firing over. Tensions started to rise though after Santiago Ascacíbar ended Brandt’s night with a nasty foul, earning him only a yellow card, whilst Herrlich was then sent to the stands for throwing a water bottle.
The game was on a knife-edge but the Leverkusen manager, who retreated as little as he could get away with from his dugout, could soon breathe a sigh of relief. A ball from Havertz was well intercepted by Badstuber, however the resulting corner from Bailey was headed in powerfully by Lars Bender, just above Ascacíbar on the line, to double Leverkusen’s advantage.
Leno had one final save to make before the end, denying Özcan, whilst Kohr and Baumgartlinger made poor attempts at making it three in the closing stages. Leverkusen had though done enough to end Stuttgart’s long unbeaten record at home and to continue their own strong current run.