Europe: Europa League
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V. Boniface (14), P. Schick (74)
By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

Boniface and Schick on target as Leverkusen seal first-place in UEL group

Bayer 04 Leverkusen have clinched top spot in their 2023/24 UEFA Europa League group with a 2-0 win over Swedish side BK Häcken. Xabi Alonso's Werkself impressively remain undefeated in all 19 matches across all competitions this year following the latest victory.

Xabi Alonso's Bayer 04 Leverkusen have both secured qualification to the 2023/24 Europa League round-of-16 and ensured that they maintain an undefeated record across all competitions this season after defeating Swedish side BK Häcken 2-0 in Göteborg on Thursday evening. The news continues to be unreservedly good for the rock solid Bundesliga title-contenders. Lead-striker Victor Boniface and long-injured center-forward Patrik Schick both scored in the latest victory.

With qualification for next year's knockouts already secured and a massive match against Dortmund in the league beckoning Sunday Xabi rotated heavily away from his normal league XI. Only Piero Hincapie, Robert Andrich, and Boniface remained in the starting blocks. Back-up keeper Matej Kovar joined Jonathan Tah, Edmond Tapsoba, Gustavo Puerta, Adam Hlozek, Amine Adli, and Nathan Tella as new entrants into the Leverkusen starting lineup.

Matters began inconspicuously enough in the snowy Swedish conditions. Neither team appeared in the mood to take too many risks until the quarter-of-an-hour-mark. As turned out, the German guests scored on their very first legitimate attack of the game. Boniface headed home the 1-0 after a nice combo involving Stanisic and Tella on the right-hand-side in the 14th.

Xabi's crew - knowing full well that a point would prove sufficient to help them avoid the UEL round-of-32 - quickly shifted into administrative mode after the early opener. The Swedish hosts did come close to equalizing after wobbles from Kovar and Hincapie on the increasingly slick and slippery pitch, but the 1-0 scoreline ultimately held at the half.

The Werkself trainer opted to allow promising Belgian youth international Noah Mbamba play in place of Bonifcace during the second 45. The 18-year-old drew attention to himself with some early turned tricks. It nevertheless wasn't long before the cautious German guests opted to revert to the bare-minimum standard of play amid conditions that might cause injuries.

Germany's red company team decided to wake up a bit in the final 15 minutes. One player who fearlessly faced the prospect of further injury was recently returned B04 striker Patrik Schick. The former proflific Czech goal-scoring machine netted the 2-0 in the 74th. There was great jubilation and relief as the 27-year-old picked up his first goal since last February. Stanisic registered his second assist of the night.

Buoyed by breaking his 2023/24 scoring duck, Schick continued to work hard in search of another tally for the scoresheet. Häcken themselves were presented a couple of useful opportunities on the counter as Bayer pushed forward in support of Schick. The guests too received a few chances from open play before the full-time whistle sealed the scoreline.

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