In his first game on the sideline as Hertha head coach and his 496th Bundesliga match as a coach, Felix Magath was forced into a change to the starting XI which beat TSG Hoffenheim before the international break. Marvin Plattenhardt, who felt muscle issues shortly before kick-off, was replaced by Maxi Mittelstädt. Alongside him, Marco Richter started on the bench in place of Vladimír Darida. The Werkself were missing several key players, including the suspended Kerem Demirbay and the injured Florian Wirtz, Jeremie Frimpong, Amine Adli and Timothy Fosu-Mensah.
The first chance of a fast and furious opening stage fell to Hertha. Following a lot of action in the opposition’s final third, the ball fell to Mittelstädt who fired just over (2’). Mitchel Bakker also went close for the third-placed home side a minute later. Bayer 04 had more of the ball, but could not create too many moments of danger with it. Alexander Schwolow was not called into much action, but he was also prevented from doing so after just 16 minutes. Our number 1 had to be replaced by Marcel Lotka due to a thigh injury, and the substitute goalkeeper made a top save not long after coming on from Karim Bellarabi (21’). With compact defensive work and good energy in the tackles, Hertha restricted Leverkusen to possession in the midfield, but that defensive strength was broken with ten minutes of the first half to go: Lucas Alario picked up the ball inside the penalty area, turned and hammered the ball into the top corner to make it 1-0 on 35 minutes. Not long later, Bellarabi also found space in the area and finished past the diving Lotka for two (40’). That was a bit setback, but the Blue-Whites were able to find an immediate response! Mittelstädt’s cross found Darida, who met it with a superb volley which arrowed into the ground and then back into the top corner to half the deficit (42’). It was a crazy end to the half, in which Alario was first denied strongly by Lotka a minute after the goal, before Lukáš Hrádecký palmed a long range effort from Lucas Tousart over the bar just before half time. The whistle went with Hertha narrowly behind and with momentum going into the break.
Felix Magath made a change at the half, bringing in Linus Gechter at left-back for Suat Serdar. The first chance of note came from captain Dedryck Boyata, whose effort from a cross was blocked well by Jonathan Tah (51’). Five minutes later, Darida was allowed in through a misunderstanding in the Werkself defence, but did not do enough to lift the ball over Hrádecký (56’). As the half went on, Magath had to make another injury substitution. Niklas Stark looked to injure his ankle in blocking a shot, so the head coach made a decision to add fresh attacking legs in Richter and Marten Winkler for Mittelstädt and our number 5 (65’). Bayer 04 goalscorer Patrik Schick, making his return from injury, curled a free-kick over the bar from 18 yards (68’), before fellow substitute Sardar Azmoun missed two headed chances (74’, 80’). Despite their efforts, Hertha found attacking difficult, and even Magath’s decision to replace Ishak Belfodil with Davie Selke saw few gaps open up in the Leverkusen defence. Darida came closest in the 90th minute, but his header ended up coming off his knee and being gathered by the Werkself’s grateful goalkeeper. It was a narrow defeat, which is tough to take, but next Saturday is a chance to make it all right – the Berlin derby is a game we want to win at all costs!
Bayer 04 Leverkusen: Hrádecký (C); Kossounou, Tah, Tapsoba, Bakker (73’ Hincapie); Andrich, Aránguiz (65’ Palacios), Bellarabi (65’ Azmoun), Paulinho, Diaby; Alario (65’ Schick)
Hertha BSC: Schwolow (16’ Lotka); Pekarík, Boyata (C), Kempf, Mittelstädt (65‘ Winkler); Stark (65‘ Richter), Ascacíbar, Tousart, Darida, Serdar (46‘ Gechter); Belfodil (76‘ Selke)
Goals: 1-0 Alario (35’), 2-0 Bellarabi (40’), 2-1 Darida (42’)
Referee: Dr. Matthias Jöllenbeck
Yellow cards: Prince (off the pitch)