Guido Burgstaller scored his first league goal of the calendar year early on, with the hosts having Dominik Kohr sent off following two yellow cards soon before half-time.
Schalke couldn’t make the most of the extra man, until a late penalty gave Nabil Bentaleb the chance to settle the game, and he did so.
Burgstaller gives Schalke an early advantage
Both sides were looking to shore up places in the top four as the race for the UEFA Champions League places heats up. Leverkusen were unchanged from the 2-1 win over Hamburger SV, whilst following their morale-boosting victory against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, Bastian Oczipka and Max Meyer returned for Schalke in place of Alessandro Schöpf and Benjamin Stambouli.
Schalke would gain the upper hand early on. Daniel Caligiuri jumped on some sloppy passing from Leverkusen, before he launched a superb diagonal ball all the way forward to Burgstaller. He managed to get past Panagiotis Restos, who failed to stop him switching to his favoured right side, and the Austrian struck through the gap to beat Bernd Leno at his near post.
Leverkusen struggled to get going, with the best half of the half coming from Leon Bailey. His first-time strike was just wide of the post after a corner was punched to him by Ralf Fährmann. Schalke didn’t have many more chances to extend their lead either though, although Leon Goretzka met a Caligiuri free-kick, but his header was parried away from danger by Leno.
Der Werkself’s cause though was hindered when Kohr saw two yellows cards in the space of six minutes. The first was for a foul on Goretzka, before a mindless tackle on Breel Embolo, with the Leverkusen midfielder late and showing his studs as he made contact with the Schalke frontman.
Benteleb finally seals the points late on
Leverkusen were still able to create some chances after the half-time break, despite the man disadvantage. Schalke were not particularly concerned with their efforts though, with Fährmann making straightforward saves from Kai Havertz and Kevin Volland, who would soon make way for Lucas Alario. Within a few minutes he was able to test the Schalke goalkeeper a little more, on the turn, but Fährmann still made the save.
Schalke, as is often their way, were happy to sit back a little. Domineco Tedesco made a curious double change just a few minutes after the break, with Meyer and Burgstaller making way for Stambouli and Amine Harit, although there was no obvious tactical shift. Their best chance came from a corner, which was headed wide by Naldo, out-muscling Wendell.
Even with Stefen Kießling joining Alario up front, Leverkusen weren’t able to create any further clear chances, but the same was true of Schalke. They had a big chance though to wrap the game up on the counter, with Harit passing to Embolo who despite the efforts of Bailey was through on goal. With Leno going to ground, Embolo thought he had got his shot over him, only for the keeper to stick a hand out to put it wide.
A mistake from Restos a little time later gave Embolo another chance to beat Leno, however the young Greek defender got back and managed to get the slightest of touches on the ball, but also brought Embolo down. Daniel Siebert gave the penalty initially, and after consulting with the VAR and taking a second look stuck with his decision.
Bentaleb, having come off the bench for Goretzka earlier in the half, eventually took the penalty, sending Leno the wrong to seal a win that Schalke had made very hard work of indeed. That put them third, level on points with great rivals Borussia Dortmund, ahead of RB Leipzig’s game against 1. FC Köln later on Sunday.