Leverkusen extends unbeaten run under Alonso to 13 games
BERLIN (AP) — Sheraldo Becker scored for Union Berlin to strengthen its chances of Champions League qualification with a 1-0 win at Borussia Mönchengladbach.
At the start of the campaign, Union was just targeting survival from what is only its fourth season in the Bundesliga after clinching promotion in 2019.
But Becker’s strike on the hour-mark Sunday was enough for the modest Köpenick-based club to consolidate third place with only five rounds remaining.
“To be up there after 29 rounds and mixing at the top does not happen by accident, but then you've earned it,” Gladbach forward Jonas Hofmann said.
Union opened a four-point gap on fifth-place Leipzig in the race for Champions League qualification. Germany’s top four qualify for Europe’s premier competition.
It was a typical battling performance from Union, and one goal was enough to clinch the team’s 16th win of the season.
Union defender Jerome Roussillon lobbed a cross over the Gladbach defense and Becker allowed it to drop before meeting the ball with his right boot to send it inside the left post.
Union coach Urs Fischer took the exhausted Becker off with just under a quarter-hour remaining, giving the Suriname winger an affectionate hug and bringing a smile to his face with whatever he said in his ear.
Union next faces in-form Bayer Leverkusen in Köpenick on Saturday.
“In the Bundesliga you get absolutely no presents,” Fischer said. “We're on a good path, but nothing is settled yet.”
LEVERKUSEN RUN CONTINUES
Leverkusen is reaping the benefit of Xabi Alonso’s coaching.
Leverkusen showed its resilient side with a 2-0 win over direct rival Leipzig, which dropped out of the top four.
Goals from Adam Hlozek and a late penalty from Nadiem Amiri secured Leverkusen’s win and stretched its unbeaten run to 13 games across all competitions.
It's been a remarkable turnaround.
Leverkusen was second from bottom in the Bundesliga with just five points from the opening eight rounds when former Spain star Alonso was appointed coach in place of the fired Gerardo Seoane.
Leipzig played well for long periods but found no answer to the home team’s resolute defending or ability to surge forward thanks to the speed of its attackers.
Hlozek scored five minutes before the break when Robert Andrich played a perfectly weighted through ball for Moussa Diaby to race onto on the right. Diaby whipped in a cross behind Leipzig’s defenders for the incoming Hlozek to side-foot inside the left post.
Hlozek was playing in place of Leverkusen star Florian Wirtz, watching from the stands after complaining of stomach problems.
Timo Werner, Dominik Szoboszlai and Christopher Nkunku all went close for Leipzig, which pushed hard for an equalizer until Szoboszlai conceded the penalty in the 85th for bringing down Jeremie Frimpong. Amiri duly sealed the result from the spot.
“To win like (we did) today is not easy," Alonso said. “We're not used to it. But our mentality and experience helped us. I'm very proud of the team.”
Leverkusen hasn't lost a game since a 3-2 defeat at home to Mainz on Feb. 19. On Thursday it reached the Europa League semifinals with a 4-1 win at Union Saint-Gilloise.
Earlier, Freiburg strengthened its case for Champions League qualification with a 4-0 rout of relegation-threatened Schalke. Michael Gregoritsch scored twice for the home team to move fourth.
Leverkusen is six points behind Freiburg.
On Saturday, Mainz defeated Bayern Munich 3-1 to give Borussia Dortmund the chance to take over as league leader. Dortmund took its chance,
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports