LEVERKUSEN, Germany (AP) -- Bayer Leverkusen fired Sami Hyypia as coach Saturday after an alarming mid-season slump and turned to the Finn's former coaching partner Sascha Lewandowski to secure Champions League qualification.
The Bundesliga club said in a statement that the former Liverpool defender Hyypia was being released "with immediate effect" following Friday's 2-1 loss at relegation-threatened Hamburger SV.
Lewandowski stepped back to resume coaching Leverkusen's youth side after securing Champions League qualification with Hyypia last season. He has been charged with securing at least fourth place in the Bundesliga to repeat the feat this time around.
"He helped us out in a critical situation once before when he worked alongside Sami Hyypia following the release of Robin Dutt," Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Voeller said. "We're firmly convinced he will succeed again."
Leverkusen previously drew with bottom side Eintracht Braunschweig and is in danger of losing fourth place, with both Wolfsburg and Borussia Moenchengladbach in a position to overtake on Saturday.
"This decision was more than difficult because Sami did a brilliant job over the last two years," Voeller said.
Leverkusen was second at one point in the Bundesliga but had a severe change in fortune after the winter break with only three wins from 12 league games this year. It has also endured humiliating losses to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League and second-division Kaiserslautern in the German Cup.
"What he and his coaching staff achieved with the team in the first half of the season was well beyond expectations and earned him praise from all sides," Voeller said. "That's why the current slump is even more painful for us. The dramatic events of the last few weeks leave us no other choice but to bring about a separation. We want to and have to try everything to save the season."
Assistant coach Jan-Moritz Lichte was also released.
"It's not an easy situation for me now to take Sami's place," Lewandowski said. "We had responsibility for this team together for more than a year. So you can't take over without regret that the former partner couldn't realize his dreams."
Kicker magazine said that Thomas Schaaf (former Werder Bremen coach), Markus Weinzierl (Augsburg), Armin Veh (Eintracht Frankfurt) and Jos Luhukay (Hertha Berlin) are all possible candidates to take over from next season.
Hyypia is the seventh coach to lose his job in the Bundesliga this season, following the dismissals of Bruno Labbadia and his successor Thomas Schneider at Stuttgart, Thorsten Fink and his successor Bert van Marwijk at Hamburger SV, Michael Wiesinger at Nuremberg and Mirko Slomka at Hannover.