For Patrik Schick, a long period of suffering came to an end
Photo: Michael Erichsen / IMAGO / Bildbyran
Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen had already secured their place as group winners before the visit to Swedish club BK Häcken in Gothenburg. Even without much pressure to get results, coach Xabi Alonso's team managed a 2-0 (1-0) victory and thus the fifth victory in the fifth game of Europa League Group H.
A player who seemed to have lost his top form from the start of the season was responsible for the lead: Victor Boniface has been waiting for a goal in the Bundesliga since 8 October. In the European Cup, however, things continue to go well, and Boniface was also able to shine against Häcken with the 1:0 (14th minute). In the second half, a striker struck who had had to be patient even longer due to injury concerns: Patrick Schick's goal for the final score (74th) was the Czech's first goal since the 2-2 draw in Bayer's 2-3 home defeat to Mainz on 19 February.
Boniface's goal was preceded by a cross from Josip Stanišić. Boniface showed the Bayern loanee early on where he would have liked to serve the ball – and Stanišić brought the ball perfectly to the far post, Boniface only had to put his head down. It was the only chance before the break for the otherwise play-happy Bayer team. One reason for this was that coach Alonso rested numerous regulars ahead of the Bundesliga top match against Borussia Dortmund on Sunday (17:30 CEST). Only three of the eleven players who started in the league against Werder Bremen at the weekend remained in the starting eleven. While stars such as Granit Xhaka and Jonas Hofmann were on the bench, Florian Wirtz did not even travel to Sweden with slight muscular complaints.
As in every Europa League game for the Werkself so far, Matěj Kovář was trusted in goal. The Czech had to be particularly careful after a good half hour and had a triple chance defused by Häcken with difficulty after he had only been able to fend off a shot by Ishaq Abdulrazak forward (32nd). The equaliser would not have been completely undeserved: Leverkusen had more of the ball, but Boniface's last attempt to create danger in the penalty area was punished by Austrian referee Julian Weinberger with a yellow card for a swallow (25').
Schick with comeback goal
For the second half, Boniface stayed out, Noah Mbamba – a midfielder – came in for him. In the 64th minute, Schick stepped onto the rain-soaked pitch in Gothenburg, and ten minutes later Bayers' former regular striker put his foot in a low cross from Stanišić to end his long goal drought. Second in Leverkusen's group is Qarabağ Ağdam, the club from Azerbaijan has the best chance of progressing to the intermediate round after a 2-2 draw at Molde FK of Norway, who are level on points.