There were hints of danger for both teams in the opening throes.
Leon Bailey missed an early chance for the visitors, and Vincenzo Grifo saw a turnover at the other end denied by a sliding challenge.
Bailey was dangerous but not clinical as Bayer controlled the first half but, like many, couldn’t find away through Freiburg’s cagey, Burnley-like compactness.
Freiburg broke the other way and had a glorious chance to steal a lead when Roland Sallai sent Lucas Holer on goal, but Lukas Hradecky cut down the angle and Holer missed wide on a chance to score in consecutive matches.
Bailey played his part well in setting up Havertz’s post-halftime opener. The Jamaican dribbled into an out of traffic before cutting a path onto Havertz’s path.
Havertz rolled the ball between the legs of Freiburg star backstop Alexander Schwolow to make it 1-0 in the 55th.
Freiburg had one more big chance to get a point, as Christian Gunter crossed for Nils Petersen but the latter couldn’t get enough on the shot to beat Hradecky.
Week 29 in Germany begins with two clubs holding onto hope of berths in the Champions League and Europa League, respectively, when Bayer Leverkusen visit Freiburg at the Black Forest Stadium.
Last time out, the scrappy hosts tossed away a 2-goal lead in drawing Eintracht, while Bayer saw its red-hot form cooled off with an exclamation point in a 4-1 loss to Wolfsburg. Freiburg’s now four points out of sixth and Bayer’s outside the top four on goal difference. That said, Kai Havertz’s Bayer has weapons for days and the creativity to get through the compact, physical Freiburg formation.
The Bundesliga returned to screens this weekend, kickstarting the race to stop Bayern Munich’s quest for a eighth-straight league title.
The leaders kept up their winning ways, but Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Monchengladbach each made statements of intent in the fight for first while Bayer Leverkusen kept their slim hopes alive and RB Leipzig took a step back.
It was a fun weekend, albeit with an eerieness befitting what they call “ghost games” in Germany.
Havertz shines, makes history in front of a focused audience
There was only one match Monday, and fans across the world were trained on the Weserstadion. Most will have wondered about 20-year-old Bayer Leverkusen striker Kai Havertz, who has been linked with seemingly every big club under the sun.
Despite playing out-of-position at center forward, Havertz did not disappoint in the least (though he was helped by Bremen’s porous back line). A pair of well-directed headed goals in a six-minute first-half span put Bayer en route to a 4-1 win, making him the youngest player in Bundesliga history to score 30 goals.
The 6-foot-2 attacking midfielder had a slow start to the season after scoring 17 times last year, but he’s humming along now.
He’s now scored 40 times with 30 assists in 140 senior appearances, including nine goals and seven assists since Germany returned from Winterpause to kick off calendar year 2020. Havertz may start the next calendar year in the Premier League (though he may prefer Bayern Munich).
Hertha Berlin rises up
Sitting 16th when the calendar hit December, Hertha is now eight points clear of the relegation picture and a point ahead of rivals Union Berlin ahead of this Friday’s Berlin Derby.
The visitors won 3-0 away to Hoffenheim in keeping what’s only their second clean sheet of 2020. Led by hard-charging forward Vedad Ibisevic, Hertha played the role of enforcers and kept Hoffenheim on edge. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t supposed to be as Hertha committed 17 fouls and unleashed 77 long balls.
If that’s what it’s going to take to get the ambitious capital club to another transfer window and a chance to reboot the club, well, Hertha may have to consider that. There are still a lot of tough fixtures on the schedule and it may take grit to keep it sound.
Hertha’s on its third manager of the season in Bruno Labbadia, who debuted with a win. He’s been around the block in German football, and the 54-year-old set his side up for success.
Great in defeat
Austrian busybody Florian Grillitsch was a monster in the middle of the park during Hoffenheim’s 3-0 loss to Hertha Berlin.
Grillitsch made six tackles, three interceptions, and won 13 of 17 duels while completing all three dribbles and passing at 93 percent. He also drew four fouls and registered a key pass. He won’t have loved coming up short on charging to fill space on Hertha’s third goal, but the match was out-of-hand at that point.
Player of the Week
Dominating a Revierderby while showing so little rust is impressive enough that Dortmund had a lot of candidates for the Best XI. One man stood out from the pack.
Julian Brandt had two assists and three key passes in Dortmund’s four-star win, playing his first match since turning 24 earlier this month. Five tackles and perfect in take-ons, Brandt and Thorgan Hazard were wonderful underneath Erling Haaland.
This flick for the hockey assist… come on! Amazing burst by Haaland to finish, too.
Hertha Berlin v. Union Berlin — 2:30 p.m. ET Friday
Freiburg v. Werder Bremen — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Paderborn v. Hoffenheim — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Wolfsburg v. Borussia Dortmund — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Bayer Leverkusen — 9:30 a.m. ET Saturday
Bayern Munich v. Eintracht Frankfurt — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday
Schalke v. Augsburg — 7:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Mainz v. RB Leipzig — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Koln v. Fortuna Dusseldorf — Noon ET Sunday