Bayer Leverkusen’s Europe-chasing challenge took a significant blow on Saturday as Die Werkself fell to a 2-0 loss to Hertha Berlin at the Olympiastadion.
Goals from in-form youngster Matheus Cunha and linchpin winger Dodi Lukebakio were the difference as Berlin stormed to their first win in four matches.
Leverkusen started much the better side, as expected for a team in the running for a spot in the Champions League. A string of early efforts was fired goal-wards but failed to test Hertha goalkeeper Rune Jarstein.
Cunha, on his first start since suffering a concussion against Leipzig in May, broke the deadlock in the 22nd minute with a sublime strike that left Lukas Hradecky with little chance of getting anything to it, albeit very much against the run of play. It was the Brazilian’s fifth goal in just eight matches in Die Alte Dame’s blue-and-white.
The visitors seemed rocked by the go-ahead goal, and the fast-paced, flowing football they had kicked off with was sapped from the youthful squad.
Hertha continued to press through their trademark counterattacks, with additional strikes from Cunha and a speculative effort from striker Krzysztof Piatek forcing Hradecky to turn the ball around the post.
The hosts doubled their lead the other side of halftime when Piatek took on a blistering solo run, saw off two defenders and Hradecky and found himself running parallel to the goal line just inches out. Belgian teammate Lukebakio appeared from nowhere and hammered home to further taint Leverkusen’s Champions League hopes.
Takeaways from the match
Piatek/Cunha is the best attacking partnership for Hertha
Hertha fans have been frustrated of late over Bosnian striker Vedad Ibisevic’s performances since the league’s restart. The last few games have been a poor showing from Ibisevic, whose clumsiness cost Die Alte Dame several goals and possibly several more points.
Now Cunha has returned from injury and Piatek is a regular starter, Ibisevic has really lost his role to two rapid, technically-gifted youngsters. Their showing tonight is all the evidence necessary.
A young squad does more harm than good
While youthfulness goes a long way in terms of fitness and pace, it often does no favours when trailing. As soon as Leverkusen conceded, their heads went down and they began to sulk, despite being the dominant team.
Nothing was falling for them going forward, and they lost interest and desire to win the ball back and create something. An elder player would not allow this, particularly considering just how much time Die Werkself had to craft a comeback.
The sprightly Brazilian returned to the starting line-up with a brilliant performance, capped off by a superb goal. He caused a real issue for the Bayer defence and his fast feet tore the visitors apart – nothing out of the ordinary for the 21-year-old.
The other half of the deadly duo, and a sure-fire bet for man-of-the-match, Piatek made himself a nuisance for the full 90 minutes. He singlehandedly brought about the second goal out of nowhere, and would have finished it himself no doubt, had it not been for the arriving Dodi Lukebakio.
He has been integral to the side recently and is cementing his place in the starting line-up with each passing fixture.