Leverkusen's Nathan Tella celebrates after scoring. Alamy Stock Photo

Ex-Southampton man on target as Xabi Alonso's Leverkusen close in on title

Nathan Tella and Florian Wirtz scored in a win over 10-man Wolfsburg.

Updated at 22.03

FORMER SOUTHAMPTON PLAYER Nathan Tella and Florian Wirtz scored as Bayer Leverkusen beat 10-man Wolfsburg 2-0 on Sunday to edge their team closer to a maiden Bundesliga title.

Bayern Munich’s 8-1 win over Mainz on Saturday, including Harry Kane’s fourth hat-trick of the season, had cut the gap to seven points.

Now, with nine games remaining, Leverkusen, who are still unbeaten in all competitions this season, sit 10 points ahead.

“It wasn’t easy, but it was highly deserved,” said Leverkusen’s Granit Xhaka. “I’m sure the fans would have wished for more goals, but three points are three points.”

Leverkusen were handed an advantage when Wolfsburg’s Moritz Jenz picked up a second yellow card after 28 minutes.

It was the third league match in a row where Leverkusen’s opponents finished with 10 men, showing the impact of the relentless pressure of coach Xabi Alonso’s high-energy football.

“We could have maybe taken more risks, but we didn’t want that. We wanted to be patient and we wanted to wait,” Alonso told DAZN.

Leverkusen took to the field just two days after returning from Azerbaijan, where they fought back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at Qarabag in the Europa League last 16.

Alonso made eight changes to keep his side fresh while impressive wing-back Jeremie Frimpong was forced to watch from the stands due to suspension.

The hosts opened the scoring 11 minutes after Jenz’s red card when Tella leapt high to head in a delightful Alex Grimaldo chip, the Spaniard’s 11th assist of the campaign.

Wirtz, who kick-started the resurgence in Thursday’s match in Baku with a beautiful chipped goal, added the second on Sunday with four minutes remaining.

 - Gregoritsch scores again -

Goals from Michael Gregoritsch and Maximilian Eggestein took Freiburg to a 2-1 win at Bochum ahead of next week’s Europa League second leg at West Ham.

Fresh from scoring the only goal to give Freiburg a 1-0 advantage in their last-16 tie on Thursday, Gregoritsch’s strike again proved crucial.

Eggestein gave the visitors the lead with a 36th-minute goal, blasting in a looping Gregoritsch header.

Gregoritsch headed an inch-perfect Ritsu Doan pass to double the visitors’ lead early in the second half.

Ivan Ordets’ header halved the deficit with just under half an hour remaining but it was not enough for the home side.

“We were hanging on at the end. I’m glad we got over the line,” Gregoritsch told DAZN.

Bochum have now lost two in a row at home since beating Bayern Munich 3-2 in mid-February.

Freiburg, who sit eighth after the win, can qualify for the quarter-finals of the Europa League for the first time by avoiding defeat at West Ham.

Eintracht Frankfurt beat nine-man Hoffenheim 3-1 at home, extending the gap between the two clubs to seven points and tightening the hosts’ grip on sixth place, the final guaranteed European spot.

Hoffenheim’s United States defender John Brooks went from star to villain, opening the scoring after six minutes but seeing red 16 minutes later for a last-man tackle on Omar Marmoush.

Frankfurt made their advantage count, scoring three unanswered goals through Robin Koch, Eric Dina Ebimbe and Mario Goetze.

Hoffenheim lost former Liverpool defender Ozan Kabak to a second yellow card with 12 minutes remaining.

Elsewhere, Paris Saint-Germain coach Luis Enrique defended his stuttering team after they were held 2-2 by Reims in Ligue 1 on Sunday, a third straight domestic draw which still allowed the reigning champions to go 10 points clear at the top of the table.

Kylian Mbappe was rested at kick-off after scoring both goals in PSG’s 2-1 midweek win at Real Sociedad which saw them qualify for the Champions League quarter-finals 4-1 on aggregate.

Without him, PSG fell behind to a Marshall Munetsi goal following an error by Achraf Hakimi.

They hit back and found themselves ahead thanks to a Yunis Abdelhamid own goal and a Goncalo Ramos strike, but Oumar Diakite’s goal for Reims ensured a share of the spoils.

It was at times a disjointed and error-strewn display from a PSG side showing six changes from their midweek Champions League performance, and Reims were well worth their point.

“I didn’t think the team was too relaxed at any point. I thought their mentality was just right,” Luis Enrique said of his side’s performance.

“I never like to gift goals and the first goal was a big one but otherwise it was all positive.

“We pressed well, we were aggressive. Today we had the chance to go 12 points clear and that is our objective, to win the league as soon as possible and compete in every competition.”

Paris fell behind in the seventh minute when Hakimi was dispossessed inside his own box, allowing Diakite to set up Zimbabwe international Munetsi to score. 

- Mbappe benched again -

However, PSG — with the names on the back of their shirts written in Korean to mark the opening of a new club shop in Seoul — drew level in the 17th minute.

Reims captain Abdelhamid scored an unfortunate own goal as he turned Hakimi’s corner into the net under pressure from Ramos.

Portugal striker Ramos then put PSG ahead two minutes later with his ninth goal of the season, finding the net with a deflected shot after the Reims defence had failed to deal with a Lee Kang-in cross.

Yet Will Still’s Reims, who sit in mid-table, came back to equalise on the stroke of half-time when Emmanuel Agbadou picked out Diakite with a superb defence-splitting pass, and the young Ivory Coast striker beat PSG’s stand-in goalkeeper Keylor Navas with a clinical finish.

Luis Enrique sent on Mbappe in the 73rd minute, with Ousmane Dembele and Randal Kolo Muani also introduced from the bench.

Mbappe had several attempts to score but could not add to his 34 goals for the season in all competitions as PSG followed up recent league draws with Rennes and Monaco by dropping points again.

However, a 1-0 defeat for nearest challengers Brest at Lens on Saturday means PSG have a huge 10-point advantage with only nine matches of the season remaining.

It was the fourth consecutive Ligue 1 game in which Mbappe has either started on the bench or been substituted since he informed PSG of his intention to leave the club when his contract expires at the end of the season.

“When the different parties comment on it, then I will comment. As long as nobody says anything I will do my job which is to take decisions,” said the coach, with Mbappe and PSG both yet to make any public pronouncements on his future.

Third-placed Monaco can move to within a point of Brest with a win at Strasbourg later on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Christian Pulisic fired AC Milan up to second in Serie A with the only goal in Sunday’s 1-0 win over lowly Empoli while Juve were held to an entertaining 2-2 home draw by Atalanta.

US star Pulisic gave Milan a scrappy win with his eighth league goal of an encouraging debut season in Italy, a deflected strike off unfortunate Empoli defender Sebastiano Luperto.

The 25-year-old had a difficult time at Chelsea but since moving to Milan from London last summer he has scored 10 times in all competitions and set up six more.

“It’s a good feeling, it was good for us to get the three points. It wasn’t a nice goal, it was a bit lucky but at the end of the day we take it,” said Pulisic to DAZN.

“I feel like I’m in some of my best form, I’ve been given a lot of confidence and trust here from the staff, from my teammates, the city and the fans. So I’m feeling really, really good here.”

Stefano Pioli’s side are 16 points behind their local rivals and champions-elect Inter Milan who beat fourth-placed Bologna on Saturday.

Milan now turn their attentions to Thursday’s Europa league last-16 return leg with Slavia Prague, with a 4-2 lead from the home leg.

Empoli are one point above the relegation zone but performed in a manner which suggested they should be good enough to avoid the drop with survival specialist Davide Nicola.

Milan took second spot off Juventus whose poor run of form continued against sixth-placed Atalanta in Turin.

Teun Koopmeiners both opened and completed the scoring as Atalanta snatched a draw that left them four points behind Bologna who are in the final Champions League spot. 

- Juve stall again -

 Juve looked set to retake second from Milan when quick-fire goals from Andrea Cambiaso and Arkadiusz Milik put the hosts ahead in the 70th minute.

Instead, Juve are a point behind Milan after picking up just six from their last seven matches and going from title challengers to also-rans in the space of weeks.

“We played well against a good team… we’ve gained a point on Bologna and Atalanta are now 11 points behind us,” said Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri.

“Our aim is to finish in the top four. I can’t criticise the team, it was a tricky atmosphere at half-time and they reacted well. The effort has never been lacking.”

Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta are a point behind Roma who stayed fifth thanks to Diego Llorente’s last-gasp leveller which earned the capital club a 2-2 draw at Fiorentina.

Llorente smashed in the equaliser in the fifth minute of stoppage time to snatch a draw after goalkeeper Mile Svilar kept Roma in the game by saving Cristiano Biraghi’s penalty in the 81st minute.

Roma were on a high after hammering Brighton in the Europa League on Thursday but goals from Luca Ranieri and Rolando Mandragora had Fiorentina deservedly ahead in Florence until Llorente struck.

Svilar’s crucial save meant that Fiorentina have failed to score from the penalty spot four times this Serie A season.

Lecce are level on 25 points with Empoli in 15th after being beaten 1-0 at home by Verona following an early strike from Michael Folorunsho.

However, that wasn’t the biggest story from that match as coach Roberto D’Aversa headbutted Verona striker Thomas Henry after a stormy encounter in southern Italy.

D’Aversa later admitted to Sky Sport that his behaviour was “inexcusable” before then claiming on Instagram he never headbutted Henry at all.

In addition, La Liga leaders Real Madrid regained their seven-point cushion at the top on Sunday as they benefited from two own goals in a comfortable 4-0 home win over struggling Celta Vigo.

Vinicius Junior turned in a rebound from Antonio Rudiger’s header at the second attempt midway through the first half at the Santiago Bernabeu before a Celta side coached by former Madrid boss Rafa Benitez unravelled late on.

Rudiger powered another header against the bar which bounced back off Celta goalkeeper Vicente Guaita and over the line for an own goal, effectively sealing the points for the hosts with 11 minutes left.

Guaita was then involved in a mix-up with Carlos Dominguez as the defender bundled a teasing Vinicius cross into his own net.

Turkish starlet Arda Guler, whose debut season in Spain has been ravaged by injuries, came off the bench to grab his first Madrid goal in stoppage time as Carlo Ancelotti’s side brushed off the absence of the suspended Jude Bellingham.

“I’m very happy, trying to be my best. The best part of the season is coming up, the good games, and I want to keep going like this. Hopefully staying clear of injuries, which have hampered me a bit this season,” Vinicius told Real Madrid TV.

Bellingham, the league’s top scorer this season with 16 goals, watched from the stands after an appeal against the England international’s two-match ban for his red card against Valencia last weekend was dismissed.

Madrid played poorly in a 1-1 draw against RB Leipzig on Wednesday, but it was enough to see them through to the Champions League quarter-finals 2-1 on aggregate.

- Vinicius loses his cool -

Vinicius was booked in that game for a spat with an opponent. The Brazilian again found himself in trouble on Sunday for angrily barging Oscar Mingueza after a couple of cynical tugs of Vinicius’ shirt.

“It was a very ugly incident. I think the referee was right to book both. What happened with Vini was a bit of frustration and it’s normal,” said Ancelotti.

“What I talk to him about stays between us. It’s something we’ve spoken about and will continue to do so. It’s not just Vini’s problem.”

Despite dropping points in three of their past five league games, Madrid had gained ground on second-placed Girona recently as the surprise challengers’ unlikely title bid began to taper off.

Madrid are now 22 games unbeaten in La Liga and eight points above reigning champions Barcelona, who are just behind Girona in third place.

“It wasn’t that difficult to do better than on Wednesday,” said Ancelotti. “We started well, we took advantage of the set-pieces to take the lead and then we got the job done.

“We’re happy, focused and motivated because it’s an important stage of the season. At Real Madrid, a draw is the first step towards a crisis.”

Celta remain in 17th and just two points above the relegation zone.

Athletic Bilbao bolstered their Champions League hopes with a 2-0 win at Las Palmas that lifted the Basque club to within two points of fourth-placed Atletico Madrid.

“This year the whole team is having a very good season,” said Athletic striker Gorka Guruzeta, who scored the opener for the visitors before Saul Coco’s second-half own goal.

“I think we have to have that calmness and approach every week as a challenge to keep winning.”

Alaves beat Rayo Vallecano 1-0 in Sunday’s early game, while Villarreal twice came from behind to win 3-2 at Real Betis in the late kick-off.

Sevilla can pull further away from the bottom three on Monday when they travel to winless Almeria.

– © AFP 2024

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel