Die Werkself underlined their credentials for a Champions League spot with a comfortable win over surprise package Hannover.Bolstered by the return of Michael Ballack to the starting eleven, Bayer Leverkusen took the opportunity to improve on their poor home record this season by beating third-placed Hannover 2-0. First-half strikes from midfield duo Arturo Vidal and Simon Rolfes were enough to secure the three points.
Jupp Heynckes' men opened the scoring with an excellent goal in the 22nd minute. Hannover were punished for not clearing their lines from a long Rene Adler goal-kick. Stefan Kiessling managed to lay the ball off to the advancing Arturo Vidal, who smashed a shot into the bottom corner past Ron-Robert Zieler for his ninth goal of the campaign.
A wonderfully crafted move on 42 minutes opened up the Hannover defence like a Christmas present and doubled the home side's advantage. Gonzalo Castro's superb through-ball was met by Simon Rolfes, who timed his run to perfection before sliding the ball under Zieler with his left peg.
Die Werkself's midfield functioned well from the off with Vidal shooting narrowly wide on nine minutes. Ballack glanced a header wide on 33 minutes when he was astonishingly left unmarked inside the penalty box from a set-piece. Barely a minute later Adler was tested for the first time though Lars Stindl's first-time volley proved to be straightforward for the German international goalkeeper.
After the break, Leverkusen looked to shut out their opponents but there was a chink of light for die Roten just before the hour. Didier Ya Konan will feel he could have done better when his left-footed shot was dinked over Adler, but also the crossbar. Mohammed Abdellaoue had a glorious chance to score on 68 minutes when he disappointingly headed over from an excellent Steven Cherundolo cross.
Hannover continued to press for a goal and Adler made a fine one-handed save from full-back Christian Schulz in the 72nd minute. Their attacking intentions left space for Leverkusen and Renato Augusto was denied when his cute finish was plucked out of the air by Zieler.
Leverkusen consolidate their second spot in the table, moving five points clear of Hannover directly below them. They travel south to Nuernberg next week while Mirko Slomka's team host Wolfsburg in a northern derby.