Hamburg 0-0 Leverkusen: Bundesliga Battle for the Top Ends Scoreless
Despite being without any of first-team strikers, Bruno Labbadia dug deep and played Tolgay Arslan alongside third-choice forward Marcus Berg.
Juup Heynckes’ only change to the squad that beat Nurnberg 4-0 was the inclusion of Renato Augusto at the expense of Toni Kroos.
At kickoff, the two contestants were deadlocked for first place, and by the way the match was played, it showed. As expected, the two teams’ highly technical midfields waged an enticing battle, but neither side was able to do enough to set up a decent shot.
Both defenses were quick to react to any forward motion, and battlers David Jarolim, Ze Roberto, Arturo Vidal and Simon Rolfes provided excellent support for their respective back lines.
The first effective attacking move was more than a half hour in the making, and was the doing of Leverkusen. Tranquillo Barnetta dribbled to the edge of Hamburg’s penalty area and released Gonzalo Castro. Hamburg goalkeeper Frank Rost raced off his line, but the Leverkusen fullback managed to play the ball across the face of goal. To Hamburg’s fortune, the ball trickled clear and out of play for a goal kick.
Hamburg’s striking woes worsened before the half when Arslan limped off with a knee injury. Turkish starlet Tunay Torun, Labbadia’s only remaining forward, was substituted in with six minutes to play in the half.
After 45 minutes, the two teams remained tightly tied for first place. Hamburg earned the majority of possession and were perhaps a bit less wasteful with the ball than their opponents, but Leverkusen earned the only half-chance of the period.
After the break, Hamburg continued to win the majority of possession, but Leverkusen were not always quick to close down their opponents. With more space to move, Eljero Elia’s talent began to show with momentary flashes of brilliance. With a touch of good dribbling and a fine shot that went just wide, the young Dutchman’s presence became apparent.
To combat their slight disadvantage in midfield, Leverkusen swapped striker Eren Derdiyok on the hour, bringing in playmaker Toni Kroos. The extra man in midfield served Leverkusen well, and the visitors enjoyed more of the ball as a result. However, they maintained a rather defensive role, with two purely holding midfielders.
With 12 minutes to go, Hamburg finally broke through the Leverkusen defense. Elia released Ze Roberto on the left side, and the Brazilian crossed into the centre of the penalty area. Torun was first to the ball and shot, but had his shot blocked by Castro.
Leverkusen countered in the 86th minute, when Sami Hyypia’s close-range header was saved by Rost. Two minutes later, Barnetta cleverly dribbled past Guy Demel and crossed low for Stefan Kiessling. The Bundesliga’s leading scorer beat his marker to the ball and shot well, but Rost made a tremendous save to preserve his clean sheet.
Just a minute was signaled to be added on at the end, but Hamburg made the best of it by winning two corners. Leverkusen were furious with the referee, who did not signal an end until 1:50 into extra time, and gave Marcus Berg just enough time to volley over the bar. At long last, the match ended in a 0-0 draw, leaving the two sides still tied, now just two points ahead of Schalke.