Bayer Leverkusen is fighting relegation in the Bundesliga, where the drama at the top of the table is largely settled.
One week after Bayern Munich clinched the Bundesliga title, RB Leipzig sealed second place and Borussia Dortmund leap-frogged Hoffenheim after beating it 2-1 in a tense home encounter. The real intrigue in the league now remains at the bottom, where Bayer Leverkusen, which began the campaign the Champions League, is still not safe from the drop after a 1-1 draw with relegation rival Ingolstadt.
Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Voller hardly calmed the nerves at the club before the match, declaring “our existence is at stake” as it bids to avoid a spot in the relegation playoff place. Since replacing Roger Schmidt in March, new coach Tayfun Korkut had picked up six points from eight games. Last week, after a 4-1 home loss to Schalke, the players went to the fans after the game to apologize.
Leverkusen was heading for defeat when Sonny Kittel put Ingolstadt ahead with 15 minutes left to play. Then up popped the only bright spot of Leverkusen’s season: 17-year-old Kai Havertz, to head home Wendell’s corner from close range. It earned a point that could be enormous in the race for survival.
“Schoolboy saves Leverkusen's millionaires!” wrote Bild.
Leverkusen may have been without Jonathan Tah, Javier Hernandez and the injured Omer Toprak and Julian Brandt, and Hakan Calhanoglu (serving a FIFA-imposed four-month ban for breach of contract), but this is a side that is still woefully under-performing.
The question for Voller is how to approach the summer market once this "cursed" season (as he puts it) ends. Will it hold onto its young stars like Tah and Brandt, who this week told Focus that he wanted to stay at the club next season so he could earn a spot in Germany’s World Cup squad? Who will replace Korkut on the bench, as his position looks increasingly untenable? There will be big changes this summer, but with the likes of Havertz and Brandt at the club, the future can still be bright; as long as Voller gets the big calls right in the coming months.