Leverkusen 2-0 Hannover: efficient display from rejigged Leverkusen side
Leverkusen won a fairly unspectacular game to maintain their second place position.
Michael Ballack’s return was the big news for the home side. He came in for Sidney Sam, with Renato Augusto moving out to the right, and Arturo Vidal moving forward into an advanced midfield role.
Mirko Slomka also made one change – out went Jan Schlaudraff and in came Lars Stindl.
The game started slowly – both sides waiting for the other to make the first move, and the ball being kept in defence, regardless of which side had the ball.
Hannover were more patient than Leverkusen, preferring a strange strategy early on that seemed to consist of very patient play at the back, followed by a hopeful long ball whenever one of the back four came under pressure. This played into the hands of Stefan Reinartz and (especially) Sami Hyypia, happy to contest aerial challenges.
Leverkusen were by far the better side. Early on their best moments came from counter-attacks, particularly down the left, where Arturo Vidal combined well with Gonzalo Castro. Vidal played high up the pitch and generally drifted to the left, to escape the attention of Sergio Pinto, who played on the left of Hannover’s central midfield zone, and was clearly the most defensive-minded player in that zone.
It was Leverkusen who were much better in the centre of the pitch, however, partly because of the numerical advantage, and partly because of the extra quality. Ballack’s return meant the midfield trio had to change, but the new combination in that zone worked excellently – Simon Rolfes was superb alongside Ballack in a double pivot, and Vidal adapted brilliantly to his more attacking role, driving Leverkusen forward and scoring a superb goal from the edge of the box to give the home side the lead.
Hannover picked up slightly after going behind, forced to be more attacking and therefore pushing their full-backs on. Although this risked exposing their defence to counter-attacks, they looked brighter towards the end of the first half, but they lacked any real creativity – both their wide players, in particular, had little influence on the game.
Leverkusen deserve credit for that, though – their main strategy throughout the game (when there was no chance for a counter-attack) was to work the ball through midfield slowly, bring their wide players into the centre of the pitch, and then let their full-backs scamper down the outside. With Stefan Kiessling upfront, crossing was always an option – but as it turned out, their second goal came from a central position – Rolfes made a well-timed run and finished coolly for a second goal that was as good as the first, albeit completely different.
Hannover had chances to get back in the game in the second half, having been frequently foiled by Leverkusen’s offside trap in the first. They made changes but didn’t really alter their approach play, and Leverkusen fully deserved the victory.
Not a lot of lessons to take as a whole, but it was interesting how cohesive Leverkusen’s midfield looked. With Ballack sitting and passing, Rolfes playing an energetic, all-action role and Vidal higher up the pitch and providing a goal threat, Jupp Heynckes may have stumbled upon an ideal system in midfield.Leverkusen 2-0 Hannover: efficient display from rejigged Leverkusen side