Lucas Alario and Karim Bellarabi lead Leverkusen past Hertha Berlin
Bayer Leverkusen have strengthened their grip on third place after goals from Lucas Alario and Karim Bellarabi saw them past Hertha Berlin on Saturday.
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Hertha Berlin
Goals: 1-0 Alario 34′ (assist: Diaby), 2-0 Bellarabi 40′ (assist: Diaby), 2-1 Darida 42′ (assist: Mittelstädt)
Buoyed by a 3-0 win over Hoffenheim, Hertha were hoping to make it two wins from two under new coach Felix Magath. Left-back Maximilian Mittelstädt got a sight of goal for the visitors after only two minutes, placing a shot from just inside the area narrowly past the top right-hand corner. A minute later Mitchel Bakker threatened at the other end for Leverkusen, firing into the side netting from an acute angle. As the home team gradually took control, Hertha goalkeeper Alexander Schwolow was forced off through injury and replaced by Marcel Lotka. The substitute was making only his fourth appearance in the Bundesliga, and he had to throw himself to his right to push away a fierce attempt from Bellarabi on 21 minutes. Leverkusen were lacking the creativity of injured Germany youngster Florian Wirtz, but French winger Moussa Diaby provided the necessary penetration. When he fired a low cross into the penalty box, Alario took one touch to get the ball out of his feet and another to lash an angled effort high across Lotka. Six minutes later, Gerardo Seoane’s side went further clear when Diaby found Bellarabi level with the penalty spot. The Leverkusen attacker produced another fine, two-touch finish for 2-0. Hertha were in danger of going under, but instead they instantly got a lifeline. Mittelstädt hoisted a cross to the back post, and Vladimir Darida was on hand to fire a volley into the ground and into the far corner. Lotka then made a sharp close-range stop to deny Alario, and Leverkusen keeper Lukas Hradecky just about pushed over a stinging Lucas Tousart strike in a frenetic end to the half.
Linus Gechter replaced Suat Serdar at the break as Hertha plotted a comeback, and their captain Dedryck Boyata came close to scrambling home from a free-kick six minutes after the restart. Darida then could have done better after pouncing on some hesitation in the home defence, and Leverkusen sent on fit-again top goalscorer Patrik Schick as part of a triple change designed to lift the team. Fellow substitute Sardar Azmoun came closest to sealing the points, heading narrowly over on 74 minutes and nodding goalwards on 81 only for Lotka to save. Robert Andrich and Diaby had further chances as Leverkusen held on for their second successive win. Czech midfielder Darida also had a late header on target for Hertha, but they drop to second bottom after a sixth loss in seven matches.