Matchweek 29 of the Bundesliga season provided us with one of the country’s most hate fuelled clashes; the Rhein Derby.
1. FC Köln hosted rivals Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the hope to win their first three points since their away win to Hannover 96 in March. Leverkusen on the other hand looked to extend their three game Bundesliga win streak, conceding no goals in their last three league games.
Having seen Borussia Monchengladbach drop points at Ingolstadt before kickoff, Roger Schmidt’s team knew that a win in Köln would take them to fourth place; one point behind Hertha in 3rd. Köln entered the game in 11th, pressure was relieved to an extent by Stuttgart in 12th place, after their loss to Bayern Munich yesterday saw them stay a point behind Köln.
Leverkusen strike twice to edge ahead
The game started how most derby games do, with a foul just seconds after kick off. The high momentum was carried by Köln as seen in the second minute of the game, in which Simon Zoller unleashed a shot from distance towards Bernd Leno’s goal. The Leverkusen 'keeper managed to stop the shot but left many fans gasping as he spilled the ball, which was claimed back to his possession shortly after.
The game started as an open contest, a Köln counter attack alerted Leverkusen full back Wendell to lunge into a tackle as Leonardo Bittencourt carried the ball forward. The Brazilian was booked for his actions.
Leverkusen’s first chance of the game came from Hakan Çalhanoğlu, after a free kick was conceded by Marcel Risse for his foul on Wendell. Despite the angle being increasingly tight, set piece specialist Çalhanoğlu whipped the ball towards the far post of the Köln goal, and was tipped away for a corner after a brilliant reaction save from Timo Horn.
As a result of the ambitious free kick, Çalhanoğlu’s set pieces continued to alert Köln as his corner was directed towards the head of Vladlen Yurchenko whose powerful header was aimed straight into the hands of Horn at Köln’s relief.
The game was dominated by Leverkusen, and Schmidt’s team were finally rewarded for their efforts with a goal in the 38th minute. The goal was crafted by the three players integral to the attacking success of Leverkusen this season; a first time flick from Çalhanoğlu into the path of Karim Bellarabi was lobbed into the box by the German, finding man in form Julian Brandt. The German teenager made no mistake in volleying the visitors ahead after some tantalising build up play.
It seemed soon after that Leverkusen were goal hungry, extending their lead to 2-0. The goal was created once again through the brilliance of Bellarabi and Brandt; Brandt finding Bellarabi in the box, who selfishly placed the ball into the path of Chicharito who curled the ball underneath the body of Horn. The Mexican claimed his 25th goal of the season, while Bellarabi earned his second assist of the game ending the first half at 2-0.
Visitors hold on for three points
To the disappointment of the visitors, danger man Karim Bellarabi was forced to be substituted after sustaining a knock during play. The winger was replaced by striker Stefan Kiessling as Leverkusen aimed for more goals with two strikers leading the line.
Despite the attack minded change, Köln produced the first chance of the second half after some sublime footwork from Bittencourt. The German shrugged off two defenders as he danced into the space in the box, his low drive at goal was saved by the legs of Leno, the German ensuring he kept his fourth consecutive Bundesliga clean sheet.
It was not Köln’s day it seemed, as the second half played out with the visitors dominating possession. Köln came close in the closing stages of the game through a venomous shot by Marcel Hartel, which was matched once more by an impressive save from Leno.
The final chance of the game was gifted to Çalhanoğlu after a foul 25 yards from goal provided him with a goal scoring opportunity. The Turk lashed the ball over the Köln wall and towards the top left corner of Horn’s goal. The German goalkeeper met the deflection from the post, as the ball rebounded from the back of his head and out for a Leverkusen corner. Agonisingly close by the Leverkusen captain.
In true derby spirit, the game did not end on friendly terms, after a malicious challenge by Bittencourt on Admir Mehmedi ignited anger between the two teams as the rival players stood up to each other in a heated crowd.
Bittencourt was given an immediate red card for his dangerous challenge from behind, and Wendell was sentenced his second yellow card of the game for an inappropriate act of violent conduct during the brawl. The game was brought to a close as the referee blew the whistle for full time, the visitors taking all three points.
Next in the Bundesliga for the two sides; Leverkusen host 17th Eintracht Frankfurt at the BayArena as they look to build on their form. Köln visit 6th place Mainz in an attempt to climb the table as the season comes to a close.