LEVERKUSEN, Germany (AP) — Bayer Leverkusen charged to the top of the Bundesliga with a 4-1 win over nine-man Hoffenheim on Sunday, while Schalke’s hopes of ending a 27-game winless run were thwarted.
With no fans to drive their team on in an empty stadium amid the coronavirus pandemic, the atmosphere in Leverkusen came from a group of farmers outside the stadium, honking the horns of tractors decorated with lights in a local Christmas parade.
Much like the Union Berlin fans who let off fireworks to inspire their team to draw with Bayern Munich on Saturday, Leverkusen’s tractor convoy was followed by success for the home team.
Leverkusen took the lead by one point from Bayern and Leipzig. Leverkusen sold its best-known player, Kai Havertz, in the off-season but has stayed unbeaten in the Bundesliga as other title rivals slipped up.
A moment of sublime skill from Leon Bailey put Leverkusen ahead in just the fourth minute as the Jamaican winger cut in from the right flank and curled a shot into the top left corner from a tight angle. By the time it became clear Bailey’s effort was no cross, it was too late for goalkeeper Oliver Baumann to stop.
Bailey’s second goal was an early Christmas gift. He had plenty of time to intercept a poor back pass from Andrej Kramaric, arriving far ahead of Baumann to score. A goal from Christoph Baumgartner in the 50th briefly put Hoffenheim back in the game, but then 17-year-old Florian Wirtz beat two Hoffenheim defenders and flicked the ball over Baumann to make it 3-1.
A second yellow card for Florian Grillitsch in the 64th damaged Hoffenheim’s chances of a comeback, before his teammate Stefan Posch also was sent for a second booking.
Lucas Alario scored an added-time penalty on his return from injury, his eighth goal in as many Bundesliga games.
SCHALKE SLIPS UP AGAIN
Schalke’s bid to end its lengthy winless streak in the Bundesliga was dashed when 10-man Augsburg salvaged a 2-2 draw with a late goal in a game marred by a concussion for Schalke forward Mark Uth.
Marco Richter leveled the score for Augsburg in added time with a header off Michael Gregoritsch’s cross. That meant Schalke reached its 27th game in the league without a win, nearing the all-time German record of 31 set by Tasmania Berlin in the 1965-66 season.
A Champions League club as recently as 2018-19, Schalke remains last in the Bundesliga after conceding 33 goals in its first 11 games.
Much of the game was played in a somber atmosphere after Uth was hurt while challenging for a high ball with Augsburg’s Felix Uduokhai. Medical staff attended to him for around eight minutes on the field before he was taken off motionless on a stretcher.
Schalke tweeted that Uth had been hospitalized with a concussion and quoted the forward as saying he hoped he would be discharged Monday. Later in the first half, his teammate Nassim Boujellab had his head bandaged after a clash of heads with Uduokhai, but was able to continue playing.
Augsburg took the lead when former Schalke player Daniel Caligiuri hit a free kick that went in off Schalke’s Suat Serdar for an own-goal. Benito Raman seized on a poor back pass to level for Schalke in the 51st.
Augsburg forward Florian Niederlechner was sent off after a second yellow card when he backed into Salif Sané in a challenge for an aerial ball. Serdar crossed for Boujellab to score Schalke’s second in the 61st.
Elsewhere in the Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund fired coach Lucien Favre following a 5-1 loss to Stuttgart on Saturday.
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