Germany: Bundesliga
0 - 1
(0 - 0)
E. Palacios (90)
By Peter Weis@PeterVicey

15:30 Kickoffs: Leverkusen snatch late win, Frankfurt upset Leipzig, three fixtures end in draws

The first set of 15:30 Bundesliga kickoffs in the new calendar year didn't end up producing many goals. A highly intriguing set of results nevertheless supplied us with some fascinating implications for the table as the 2023/24 "Hin-runde" drew to a close for ten top-flight sides. 

There were only two winners in a set of simultaneous kickoffs that featured three draws. League leaders Bayer 04 Leverkusen were able to restore their four-point cushion at the top of the table with a dramatic late 1-0 win over FC Augsburg. Eintracht Frankfurt also upset RB Leipzig 1-0. 

The spoils were shared among the rest of the field as Freiburg-Union, Köln-Heidenheim, and Mainz-Wolfsburg all ended in stalemates. There were no goals in Freiburg. Hosting clubs Köln and Mainz drew their respective guests 1-1.
Already guaranteed the coveted title of German "Herbstmeister" despite Bayern's victory over Hoffenheim last night, Xabi Alonso's Bayer 04 Leverkusen have ensured that they concluded the first half of the season with a four-point advantage over the German record champions. A tightly contested duel against Jess Thorup's Augsburg appeared destined to end in a goalless stalemate, but the league leaders were ultimately able to prevail in the final minute of stoppage time. Germany's red company team remain undefeated through 26 competitive fixtures in the current 2023/24 cycle.

Werkself trainer Alonso made two changes to the squad that beat VfL Bochum 4-0 just prior to the short winter break. German phenom Florian Wirtz remained on the bench with slight hip problems. Czech attacker Adam Hlozek took Wirtz's place. Jonathan Tah - sitting on four yellow cards and risking suspension ahead of a huge match against Leipzig next weekend - began on the bench. Defensive midfielder Robert Andrich slid back to take Tah's place in the back-three while Exequiel Palacios took Tah's place in the XI.

FCA gaffer Thorup also made two changes from his final 2023 squad; the Fuggerstädter side that lost 0-3 against Stuttgart. Arne Engels and the suspended Mads Pedersen made way for Iago and Ruben Vargas. Thorup altered his usual 4-2-3-1 system. Vargas played behind the double-striker set of Ermedin Demirovic and Philipp Tietz in a midfield-clogging 4-4-2 diamond that featured Niklas Dorsch at sweeper. Thorup's tactics initially succeeded in taking the tempo out of the match.

The league-leaders had great difficulty getting going against their Bavarian Swabian hosts. Leverkusen generated no danger until Hlozek and Alejandro Grimaldo tested FCA keeper Finn Dahmen in the 18th. Dahmen would make a strong save against B04 striker Patrik Schick shortly thereafter. Grimaldo ended up hitting the post twice on a double chance in the 28th. Thorup's men were able to re-establish their game plan after the ten-minute-span of fireworks and the opening 45 ended quietly.

With plenty of determination, Xabi's unaltered side continued to push for the opener after the restart. Palacios and Granit Xhaka sent efforts wide before ten minutes elapsed in the second half. Schick found himself slightly off the mark in the 59th. Xabi introduced Wirtz in the 62nd and the German phenom's introduction helped Bayer achieve still more penetration into the box. A clear chance still didn't materialize for the favorites. Instead, it was Demirovic who came closer to equalizing at the other end in the 68th.

As the match wound down, Germany's red company team continued to find difficulty locating the right final pass or finish. The Fuggerstädter mostly hung back to quash the Leverkusen attack, but did rattle off the occasional counter. Tietz saw a goal disallowed for offside in the 72nd. The compact Augsburg constellation held off tireless, if not necessarily uncreative, Leverkusen attack charges deep into injury time. Just when it appeared as if the affair was destined to end in a goalless draw, Palacios stole all three points at the death.

Wirtz played Grimaldo into the penalty area at 90+4. Grimaldo, in turn, unlocked Palacios. The Argentine midfielder had time and space to take an intelligent touch and slide home past Dahmen. The young FCA net-minder was unfortunately denied his first Bundesliga clean sheet at the last moment. Leverkusen's win, while certainly labored, did not feel undeserved at all.

Elsewhere in the Bundesliga's 15:30 kickoffs, Freiburg-Union did finish up in a goalless draw. Neither Christian Streich's Breisgauer nor Nenad Bjelica's Köpenicker were able to score a goal at the down south at the Europa Park Stadion. The spoils were also shared via a pair of goals in Mainz and Köln. Mainz fought back to draw Wolfsburg 1-1

Under their newly appointed trainer Timo Schulz, 1. FC Köln were able to take a point off of Frank Schmidt's 1. FC Heidenheim in a match that also  ended in a 1-1 scoreline. Frankfurt joined Leverkusen as the only other winners in the latest set of concurrent kickoffs. An early goal from Ansgar Knauff helped Dino Toppmöller's SGE top Marco Rose's Leipzig 1-0.

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