A late injury to Tim Wiese forced him out of selection but Babbel did have Marvin Compper to call on as the defender returned from suspension to the starting line-up, taking the captain's armband in the process. Babbel also gave Vincenzo Grifo his first ever start in Hoffenheim colours.
Despite being at home, Hoffenheim were on the back foot in the early stages against Bayer Leverkusen. André Schürrle and Castro threatened to test Casteels but Hoffenheim's defence stood firm. Unfortunately, after a quarter of an hour Babbel's men did find themselves behind. Castro curled in a free kick left of centre just outside the box and although the effort was blocked by the wall, Hoffenheim failed to clear the ball fully and were made to pay. Lars Bender won the first header, Reinartz the second and Rolfes nodded through the third for the on-rushing Bender to finish off the move he had started. The midfielder did just that, leaving Koen Casteel's no chance with his low finish.
Having found their way into the game, a free kick move nearly brought Hoffenheim level. Salihovic opted not to cross from the right and fooled everyone with his flat pass, but Roberto Firmino just couldn't take advantage. Minutes later and the Brazilian smashed a brilliant effort goalwards from outside the area only to be denied by the crossbar. Babbel's men continued to press and Salihovic's cross was met by Matthieu Delpierre but his header went wide of Leno's right-hand post. Then, before Hoffenheim could fashion out another chance, Leverkusen doubled their lead. Daniel Carvajal played a one-two with Bender and then another one with Schürrle before rounding Casteels to fire into the empty net. Salihovic then forced a good save out of Leno but Hoffenheim found themselves two goals down at the break.
Babbel's men started the second half on top and were intent on finding a way back into the game. The substitute Eren Derdiyok nearly provided it with a flick of his heel after Volland's cross found him in the area but the former Leverkusen man just couldn't get his effort on target. Hoffenheim continued to press forward, putting Leverkusen on the back foot in the process. Shortly before the hour mark, TSG were rewarded for their efforts. A cross on the right from Firmino was flicked on by Kevin Volland to Fabian Johnson. The American took advantage of space at the far post and his drilled effort took a deflection off teammate Volland before hitting the back of the net.
Hoffenheim took inspiration from their goal and substitute Schipplock nearly drew the home side level after Derdiyok had flicked on a corner but his shot went wide of the far post. André Schürrle then whipped a free kick onto the bar from distance to remind Babbel's men of the threat they still posed. The momentum though, remained with the home team and after a great individual run from Roberto Firmino, Sven Schipplock had a chance to level but he could only fire over. Hoffenheim were running out of time to find an equaliser that their second-half performance certainly merited. Substitute Takashi Usami forced a save out of Leno before Schipplock's cross just missed the outstretched Derdiyok. TSG threw everything at their opponents in the second half but in the end came up just short.
Babbel's men have little time to digest this result ahead of the midweek league fixtures. TSG 1899 Hoffenheim travel to 1. FC Nürnberg on Wednesday 28th November and kick-off is at 20.45 CET.
TSG 1899 Hoffenheim: Casteels – Beck, Compper, Delpierre, Johnson (83' Usami) – Salihovic, Rudy – Roberto Firmino, Volland, Grifo (46' Schipplock) – Joselu (46' Derdiyok)
Bayer 04 Leverkusen: Leno – Carvajal, Wollscheid, Toprak, Hosogai – L. Bender, Reinartz, Rolfes – Castro (68' Hegeler), Kießling (90+1' Friedrich), Schürrle (81' Kohr)
Goals: 1-0 Bender (15'), 2-0 Carvajal (38'), 2-1 Johnson (59')
Yellow cards: Delpierre – Toprak, Reinartz
Referee: Christian Dingert