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Youngsters Havertz, Brandt leading Leverkusen revival

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BERLIN (AP) Two young German national team players are leading Bayer Leverkusen’s revival under new coach Peter Bosz.

Kai Havertz, still only 19, has made himself an indispensable part of the squad and is getting better with each game, while 22-year-old Julian Brandt produced a man-of-the-match performance against Mainz on Friday.

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Brandt, who had already been entrusted with the No. 10 jersey by Germany coach Joachim Loew following Mesut Ozil’s premature retirement, showed he is determined to keep it after scoring two goals and setting up two more in Leverkusen’s 5-1 win.

“If a No. 10 is needed and the coach thinks we don’t have any in the squad, then I think I have the quality for it,” Brandt said.

Havertz, his midfield partner and the only player to have started every league game for Leverkusen this season, scored his eighth goal of the season against Mainz and is displaying a maturity well beyond his years.

Havertz has already scored more goals than in the previous two seasons since he first broke into the senior team.

The ambidextrous midfielder can play all across midfield, winning tackles in defense, switching play and launching attacks with his quick eye for movement, coupled with his anticipation and then precision when delivering the final pass. Havertz has been involved in 17 goals in his 27 games in all competitions this season.

Havertz’s importance to Leverkusen was underlined by the club’s concern over the hip injury he picked up in the 3-1 win over Bayern Munich on Feb. 2. He missed the German Cup loss to second-division club Heidenheim three days later, but the injury was not as serious an initially feared and he returned to start in Mainz to help Leverkusen claim its third straight win.

Bosz, a former Borussia Dortmund coach, took over from Heiko Herrlich in time for the second half of the season. He appears to have stabilized the team after an inconsistent first half. The Dutch coach has given free rein to both Brandt and Havertz in the center and the decision has paid off with marked improvement since the league resumed.

Brandt had been playing on the wing under Herrlich.

“When you play on the wing you’re tied to the position and don’t have as much room,” Brandt said. “So now I can run around with freedom. I feel very comfortable in the position.”

Bosz’s reasoning for Brandt’s position switch is simple.

“He is a very good player and you have to give good players the ball. He was outstanding today and always there at the right time,” Bosz said after the win in Mainz, where Brandt scored twice in a game for the first time.

Back on track in the Bundesliga – Leverkusen is up to sixth, good enough for Europa League qualification, five points behind Leipzig in the last place for Champions League qualification – Bosz’s team next travels to Russia to face Krasnodar in the Europa League.

Bosz previously led Ajax to the Europa League final in 2017.

“We don’t want to go at it like in the German Cup,” Brandt said, referring to the slip-up in Heidenheim. “We’ve learned from that.”

More AP German soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/Bundesliga and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Leverkusen fends off interest in Germany midfielder Brandt

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LEVERKUSEN, Germany (AP) Bayer Leverkusen has warded off interest in Julian Brandt by extending the 21-year-old Germany midfielder’s contract by two years to 2021.

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“With this step we have managed to convince one of the most sought-after German players to continue on the same path as us,” Leverkusen managing director Michael Schade said Wednesday. “To have beaten off absolute top competition for Julian from home and abroad is a huge success for us.”

A quick player with outstanding technical ability, Brandt has long been linked with Bundesliga rival Bayern Munich.

“I feel really good here and I see that something really big is developing here,” Brandt. “That was shown by the recent contract extensions for Jonathan Tah and Lars Bender. They two of them are convinced like me that we can achieve something with this team.”

Brandt joined Leverkusen from Wolfsburg’s under-19 team in January 2014 and has since made 165 appearances, scoring 24 goals and setting up 25 more. He has six goals and four assists so far in the Bundesliga this season.

“Julian was already an outstanding player as a 17-year-old when he came to us,” Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Voeller said. “However, he would probably not have reached his current level as quickly without the playing time that he got with us.”

Brandt, Germany’s youngest squad member for the recent friendlies against Spain and Brazil, has made 14 appearances for the national team and is a likely pick for Joachim Loew’s World Cup team.

Leverkusen is fifth in the Bundesliga and fighting for Champions League qualification with six games remaining.

Bundesliga wrap: Schalke goes second, Leipzig drops sixth

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RB Leizpig were the losers of the weekend as the congested battle for UEFA Champions League places continued down the home stretch of the Bundesliga season.

[ MORE: Liverpool 2-0 Newcastle ]

Schalke, Eintracht Frankfurt, and Bayer Leverkusen wins mean last season’s runners-up sit sixth with nine matches to play.

Schalke 1-0 Hertha Berlin

Marko Pjaca scored his second goal in five Bundesliga appearances to push Schalke past Hertha Berlin on the day and ahead of rivals BVB on the table.

RB Leipzig 1-1 Borussia Dortmund

The hosts couldn’t find a way to defy BVB after red-hot Marco Reus canceled out Jean-Kevin Augustin’s opener to leave it level at halftime.

BVB remains unbeaten under Peter Stoger, and Christian Pulisic was a late sub for the visitors with Marco Reus and Andre Schurrle drawing starts on the wings.

Stoger did admit he felt Reus was off, though it seems razor-thin onside to these eyes:

“I already noticed that Reus’ foot was offside, it was an outstanding pass which we worked on being able to play. If you find the right way there you can be dangerous, that’s what we did here.”

Wolfsburg 1-2 Bayer Leverkusen

Lucas Alario’s 39th minute goal was joined by Julian Brandt’s below goal to give the visitors a two-goal lead, but Admir Mehmedi scored a minute after Brandt to set up a grandstand finish. All that arrived for Wolfsburg, however, was William’s second yellow card to condemn the hosts to 10 men on the edge of stoppage time.

Elsewhere
Borussia Monchengladbach 2-2 Werder BremenRECAP
Eintracht Frankfurt 1-0 Hannover 96
Augsburg 0-2 Hoffenheim
Hamburg 0-0 Mainz — Hosts miss PK, have VAR overrule goal
Koln vs. Stuttgart — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Freiburg vs. Bayern Munch — Noon ET Sunday

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 24 19 3 2 55 18 37 10-2-0 9-1-2 60
 FC Schalke 04 25 12 7 6 39 30 9 7-4-2 5-3-4 43
 Borussia Dortmund 25 11 9 5 50 31 19 5-4-3 6-5-2 42
 Eintracht Frankfurt 25 12 6 7 33 27 6 6-3-4 6-3-3 42
 Bayer Leverkusen 25 11 8 6 45 33 12 5-4-3 6-4-3 41
 RB Leipzig 25 11 6 8 38 34 4 7-4-2 4-2-6 39
 1899 Hoffenheim 25 9 8 8 40 38 2 6-4-2 3-4-6 35
 Mönchengladbach 25 10 5 10 33 37 -4 6-3-4 4-2-6 35
 FC Augsburg 25 8 8 9 33 32 1 5-4-4 3-4-5 32
 Hannover 96 25 8 8 9 32 35 -3 6-3-3 2-5-6 32
 Hertha BSC Berlin 25 7 10 8 30 31 -1 4-4-4 3-6-4 31
 VfB Stuttgart 24 9 3 12 20 27 -7 8-1-3 1-2-9 30
 SC Freiburg 24 6 11 7 25 38 -13 5-6-1 1-5-6 29
 Werder Bremen 25 6 9 10 24 30 -6 4-4-4 2-5-6 27
 VfL Wolfsburg 25 4 13 8 28 33 -5 2-7-4 2-6-4 25
 FSV Mainz 05 25 6 7 12 29 42 -13 5-2-5 1-5-7 25
 Hamburger SV 25 4 6 15 18 35 -17 3-4-6 1-2-9 18
 1. FC Köln 24 4 5 15 22 43 -21 2-3-7 2-2-8 17

Report: Bayern Munich, Alexis Sanchez talk money

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German publication Bild claims that Bayern Munich has already spoken with Alexis Sanchez, exchanging salary numbers ahead of a hopeful summer move.

Bayern was reported to have scouted Sanchez and Kyle Walker in late April, but Arsene Wenger has been adamant that Arsenal and Sanchez will reach a new agreement.

The report also notes that Sanchez shares representation with fellow Chilean and current Bayern midfielder Arturo Vidal, and claims that Bayern Munich will add two other players in a youth movement.

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One of those is ex-Arsenal player Serge Gnabry, who starred at the Olympics for Germany’s U-23 side and has 10 goals and two assists for Werder Bremen this season.

Gnabry, 21, is a target along with 22-year-old Leon Goretzka (Schalke) and 20-year-old Julian Brandt (Bayer Leverkusen). Goretkza has five goals in the Bundesliga and three more in the Europa League, while Brandt is well-known in these spaces as a oft-mentioned Liverpool target.