Die Werkself found themselves pinned inside their own half for much of the first 45 minutes, but a quickfire double courtesy of a training-ground free-kick routine and an ice-cold counter saw the South Korean fire Leverkusen to a third straight win at Europe’s top table, with Jose Rondon netting late on for the hosts.
Leverkusen on the edge
Leverkusen named the second-youngest starting line-up in UEFA Champions League history and, unsurprisingly, began the livelier of the two sides as Karim Bellarabi flashed an effort just over inside ten minutes. However, the visitors’ were fortunate not to fall behind approaching the quarter-hour mark as Hulk’s 45-yard free-kick evaded the bodies in the box to come back off the post.
Rattling the woodwork gave Zenit a greater sense of confidence and, with Leverkusen living dangerously, Alexsandr Kerzhakov twice failed to beat Bernd Leno in one-on-one situations. With Zenit’s enterprising counterattacks posing problems, Bayer attempted to adopt a more cautious approach to proceedings, but struggled to get themselves off the back foot and will have been pleased to go in at the break with the deadlock still intact.
Son saves the day
With the encounter and potentially both sides’ Group C fate hanging in the balance, neither team took long to get themselves back into gear after the restart, with Heung-Min Son firing off an early warning shot when his team-mates were in better positions. Leverkusen placed a greater importance on keeping things tight at the back, but while they were proficiently stifling Zenit’s most promising moments, their movements in the final third suffered as a result.
However, with just over 20 minutes remaining, Roger Schmidt’s charges finally produced the opening goal as Bellarabi laid Hakan Calhanoglu’s disguised free-kick into the path of Son, who combined power with precision to lash a first-time effort inside the far post. The South Korean doubled his tally moments later, holding off the challenge of Domenico Cristico to roll the ball beyond Yuri Lodygin. Rondon's 88th-minute volley was a mere consolation, as Leverkusen deservedly walked away with all three points.
Leverkusen: Leno - Donati, Toprak, Spahic, Jedvaj (Boenisch 65’) - L. Bender, Calhanoglu - Bellarabi, Brandt (Drmic 53’), Son - Kießling
Zenit: Lodygin - Anyukov, Garay, Lombaerts, Criscito - Javi Garcia, Witsel - Hulk, Danny, Shatov - Kerzhakov
Goals: 0-1 Son 68’, 0-2 Son 73’, 1-2 Rondon 89'