Bernd Leno allowed Yuya Osako’s early shot to go straight through him, before Der Werkself’s task was made even harder when Lucas Alario was sent off for a mindless elbow on Dominic Maroh.
The visitors showed signs of improvement after half-time, but their hopes of getting back into this game – and back into the Bundesliga’s top four – were ended when Simon Zoller got the Billy Goats’ second.
Köln have Leverkusen rattled from the off
Köln’s defeat at Werder Bremen on Monday left their survival hopes looking increasingly distance. Stefan Ruthenbeck made three changes with Maroh, Leonardo Bittencourt and Zoller in for Frederik Sörensen, Simon Terodde (both injured) and Claudio Pizarro. Leverkusen, following their 2-0 win against Borussia Mönchengladbach, made two changes – Tim Jedvaj and Julian Brandt came in for the injured Lars Bender and Kevin Volland, who was attending the birth of his child.
Despite the position in the table, the Bundesliga’s bottom club started well, with an early Bittencourt shot saved by Leno. He then combined on the left with Jonas Hector to put a cross into the box. Leverkusen couldn’t clear it and, after taking a touch, Osako struck at Leno, who inexplicably let the ball under his body, and Köln had an early lead.
Bittencourt was having a blinder in the first half, causing no end of problems or Jedvaj and Jonathan Tah as he kept putting the ball into the box from Köln left-hand side. Leverkusen struggled to response to their lively performance, with a header from Alario the only thing Timo Horn had to handle with any level of difficulty.
The red mist descended on the Argentinian frontman soon after that though. Maroh went down after an off-the-ball duel between the two, with Alario having elbowed him in the neck, leaving the defender in considerable discomfort. Given the nature of the incident VAR had to get involved, and once Harm Osmers had a look again at the incident on the screen, he brandished the red card for Alario – a rare case of a VAR decision going in Köln’s favour this season.
That disgraceful act really rose the tensions in this derby game, with Dominique Heintz and Wendell getting booked for poor challenges. Now with a man disadvantage, Leverkusen continued to struggle, with Bittencourt almost creating another chance just before the break. His cross was just a little too quick for Zoller to meet at the far post though.
Zoller makes sure of a massive victory
Heiko Herrlich had to make changes at the break and he did so, with Benjamin Henrichs and Joel Pohjanpalo coming on. They were a lot brighter too, with Kai Havertz finding Julian Brandt for an early effort, saved by Horn. The Köln goalkeeper just about got to a deflected Leon Bailey free-kick as well.
Köln had been slower to get started in second half, although Osako went wide before finding Bittencourt, with his shot deflecting wide. They were gifted the second goal though. Charles Aránguiz’s header back was misguided at best, and Zoller pounced the get the ball over and past Leno, before making sure of the goal with his knee.
That more or less took all the fizz out of the spectacle. A good free-kick from Brandt did present a chance to Sven Bender for Leverkusen soon after the second goal, however he struck into the side netting. Late on, Henrichs struck off target before a Karim Bellarabi volley also hit the side of the net. Leverkusen’s fight had though been sucked out by Zoller’s vital goal.
The win could be significant for Köln, who are now two points ahead of Hamburg and only five behind both 1. FSV Mainz 05 and VfL Wolfsburg, and they still have to play both before the end of the season. Leverkusen go into the international break outside of the bottom four, after Eintracht Frankfurt’s win against Mainz on Saturday.
Sunday’s earlier Bundesliga result
Borussia Dortmund 1-0 Hannover 96 (1-0, Batshuayi 24’)