Moussa Diaby was among the goals as Bayer Leverkusen booked their place in the UEFA Europa League last 32 with victory away to Ligue 1 club and Group C rivals Nice.
Nice 2-3 Bayer Leverkusen
Goals: 0-1 Diaby (22’), 1-1 Kamara (1-1), 1-2 Dragovic (32’), 2-2 Ndoye (47’), 2-3 Baumgartlinger (51’)
Even without 10-goal top scorer Lucas Alario, Leverkusen were far superior in the first half. Kerem Demirbay was a constant nuisance in the centre of midfield, while Karim Bellarabi and Diaby ran Nice ragged in the wide areas. Wendell and Patrik Schick had already tested Walter Benitez when Diaby latched onto Demirbay’s chipped pass to smash in the opening goal. Hassane Kamara’s fine volley brought Nice level with a goal they barely deserved, only for Aleksandar Dragovic to restore order from Nadiem Amiri’s corner.
Leverkusen were pegged back out of nothing two minutes into the second half. Lukas Hradecky could only parry Jeff Reine-Adelaide’s fierce free-kick, allowing Dan Ndoye to tuck away the rebound. Leverkusen retook the lead with their next attack, though, as Julian Baumgartlinger guided in Amiri’s near-post set piece with his back. Benitez kept the scoreline respectable, in contrast to the reverse tie which Leverkusen won 6-2, twice keeping out substitute Leon Bailey, while Edmond Tapsoba sent a late header from a corner wide. Bayer will progress as group winners if they beat current leaders Slavia Prague in their final fixture in the section.
- Leverkusen have lost just one of 15 competitive matches in 2020/21, winning 10 and drawing four.
- Alario has scored 10 goals in 12 competitive appearances for Leverkusen this season at an average of one every 77 minutes. He has eight goals in 14 Europa League outings, including two in four this term.
- It’s Bailey who has had the biggest hand of all Leverkusen players in Europe this season, though, with three goals and two assists.
- France-born Diaby is unbeaten in four career meetings with Nice (W3, D1). He notched an assist in his first, whilst playing for Paris Saint-Germain.
- Cem Türkmen, 18, made his senior Leverkusen debut. The midfielder has been playing for the club's U19s this season.
- Peter Bosz took Ajax to the 2016/17 Europa League final. The Dutchman has won 51 of his 86 competitive matches as Leverkusen head coach.
Nice: Benitez (c) - Daniliuc, Bambu, Nsoki - Lotomba, Reine-Adelaide, Danilo (Thuram 67'), Kamara (Coly 72') - Maolida (Ndoye 29'), Gouiri (Trouillet 72'), Claude-Maurice
Unused subs: Boulhendi, Cardinale, Rony Lopes, Pelmard, Mahou, Pionnier Bertrand, Wade, Ben Seghir
Out: Atal (thigh), Boudaoui (suspended), Dante (knee), Dolberg (not included), Schneiderlin (suspended)
Coach: Patrick Vieira
Leverkusen: Hradecky - L. Bender (c) (Tapsoba 46'), Tah, Dragovic, Wendell - Amiri (Türkmen 68'), Baumgartlinger, Demirbay (Wirtz 86') - Bellarabi, Schick (Bailey 46'), Diaby (Gedikli 68')
Unused subs: Grill, Lomb, Sinkgraven
Out: Alario (knee), Aranguiz (Achilles tendon), Arias (ankle), S. Bender (ankle), Palacios (back), Paulinho (knee)
Coach: Peter Bosz
As it happened
LEVERKUSEN MARCH ON
Leverkusen are through to the UEFA Europa League last 32 with a game to spare. They host Slavia Prague in their final Group C encounter to determine who progress as group winners.
TIME ADDED ON
Four minutes left, with Leverkusen nearing a fourth win from five in Group C...
Aye, aye, aye - Leverkusen almost seal the deal! Teenagers Wirtz and Gedikli offers a glimpse into Bayer's bright future with a lovely bit of combination play. Bailey gets in on the act and tests Benitez, who puts it behind for a corner. Tapsoba meets the ensuing cross, but heads just wide.
Demirbay has earned his corn in Nice. The Germany international has been everywhere for Bayer - fantastic stuff.
LEVERKUSEN WANT A FOURTH
Bellarabi hasn't stopped all night for Leverkusen. He charges forward and crosses into the middle, with Daniliuc sliding in to prevent a grey shirt from getting a touch. Bellarabi and Bailey play the corner short, but the final ball evades everyone.
Nice have only really threatened from set-pieces. Reine-Adelaide fires in another, which whistles into the side netting. Leverkusen are not over the line yet!
Some promising openings for Leverkusen these past few minutes, with Bailey almost releasing Gedikli, and Wendell whipping over an effort that's neither cross nor shot in the end from a decent position.
Seventeen-year-old forward Emrehan Gedikli is making his second appearance for the the Bayer first team, but it's a senior debut for midfielder Cem Türkmen, 18.
The substitutes combine as Tapsoba sprays a ball upfield for Bailey to chase. He's one-on-one with Benitez, but the Nice stopper sticks out a foot to make a very important save.
UNCERTAINTY AT THE BACK
Wendell and Hradecky get in a pickle, with the former's attempted header going over the latter and out for a corner. Nsoki heads goalwards from the ensuing set piece, but Hradecky is on hand to keep it out.
SHOOT ON SIGHT
Amiri and Demirbay make Benitez work with a pair of long-range efforts. Has Peter Bosz told his players to shoot on sight?
WHAT A RESPONSE!
Leverkusen forge ahead once more. Amiri is the provider with a cracking little free-kick towards the near post. Baumgartlinger simply helps it in with his back to goal. Parity doesn't last for long when Leverkusen are in town!
GOAL!2 : 3
NICE DRAW LEVEL - AGAIN!
Lukas Hradecy won't want to watch this again. The Finn has the best intentions when he puts his hands up to Reine-Adelaide's fierce free-kick, but realises it's too hot to handle and can only parry. Unfortunately, the ball falls straight to Ndoye, who tucks it away from close range.
Peter Bosz, perhaps with one eye on Sunday's Bundesliga meeting with Schalke, makes two changes. Leon Bailey replaces Patrik Schick in attack, while Edmond Tapsoba is on in place of Lars Bender at the back.
LEVERKUSEN IN CONTROL
Bayer are very good value for their half-time lead. They could have added a third on the stroke of half-time, but Schick opted to shoot instead of play in an unmarked teammate. So 2-1 it is, with Leverkusen heading for the last 32...
Slavia Prague lead Hapoel Beer-Sheva 2-0 in the group's other contest. As things stand, Leverkusen are going through to the knockouts along with the Czechs, who they face on Matchday 6 in a shoot-out for top spot.
Nice cannot cope with Leverkusen's wide players. Bellarabi is at it again on the right-hand side, bursting forward and asking the question with a peach of a cross. Diaby comes in off the opposite flank to take the shot on, but fires just wide.
HRADECKY MOPS UP
Jonathan Tah plays his goalkeeper into danger with an ill-advised back pass. Maolida seizes on the error, but Hradecky is out to make a crucial block.
LEVERKUSEN BACK IN FRONT
Leverkusen retake the lead from a corner. Amiri's cross finds Dragovic, who's given far too much time to pick his spot. Fine finish from the centre-back - normal service resumed!
GOAL!1 : 2
Demirbay tests Benitez from 25 yards. The Nice stopper can only parry, but recovers in time to keep out Bellarabi on the rebound.
OUT OF NOTHING!
Leverkusen are pegged back. Lars Bender gets his head to corner, but Hassane Kamara returns it with interest and then some, smashing in a volley from the edge of the area to bring Nice level.
Leverkusen carve open the Nice defence once again as Amiri sends Schick through on goal. He finishes past Benitez, only for the VAR to rule the Czech striker's effort out for offside.
Lovely goal for the visitors! Leverkusen play keep ball before Demirbay spots the run of Diaby. His pass over the Nice defence is measured to perfection, and Diaby leathers it in off the underside off the crossbar.
Ooof! So close to the opening goal for Leverkusen. Bellarabi tears clear up the right and whips an inviting ball across the six-yard box for Patrik Schick. He connects with it first time, but a slight bobble beforehand does him no favours and he spoons over.
BAYER ON THE OFFENSIVE
Lars Bender and Demirbay combine to win a corner. It's half cleared as far as Bellarabi, who's initial effort is blocked. Wendell warms the palms of Benitez on the follow-up.
The magic sponge does its job, and Diaby rejoins the action.
First shot in anger from Nice as Claude-Maurice pings an effort wide from the edge of the area. Bayer go up the other end with Diaby, who’s unceremoniously brought down by Robson Bambu in the Nice box. The referee waves away the penalty appeals as Diaby heads off the field for treatment…
HERE WE GO!
Under way in the French Riviera, Italian Maurizio Mariani the man in the middle.
THE BAYER VIEW
"We want to be first in the group," affirmed Bosz at his pre-match press conference. "It will be important to win both games for this. Ultimately, the final placement will not be decided until next week in the game against Prague. The 6-2 win makes it look like Nice had no chances. It wasn't like that. They have a good team, but we want to win again."
THE NICE VIEW
"We lost the first game, but when you look at the first hour, we had situations, moments where we could have caused them more problems and been in the match with them," recalled Vieira of the first leg his side lost 6-2. "Up to the 75th-minute, it was 3-1. The last 15 minutes were unacceptable, because we stopped playing. Up till then, we had matched them. That means that we can do things to cause them problems. Tomorrow, we have to go onto the pitch with commitment and determination. We want the players to respect what we’ve planned, that they take off the handbrake and play. If we manage to do that, we’ll cause them problems."
NOW OR NEVER FOR NICE
With three points - courtesy of a 1-0 win over Hapoel Beer-Sheva - Nice have to win to have any chance of reaching the last 32. The Eagles were fifth when the 2019/20 Ligue 1 campaign was cancelled on 30 April, but haven't made the best of starts to the new season. They're down in 11th, with 17 points from a possible 33, and are currently winless in four matches in all competitions.
BAYER ON SONG
Leverkusen are second in Group C, level on nine points with leaders Slavia Prague. The Czechs are the only team to beat Bayer so far this season, with Peter Bosz's men one of only two sides still to taste defeat in the Bundesliga. They're third domestically after nine matches, only three points behind defending champions Bayern Munich.
Nice are without veteran defender Dante, who won a Bundesliga, UEFA Champions League and DFB Cup treble with Bayern Munich in 2012/13. His absence leaves head coach Patrick Vieira very light at the back - to compensate he's named a very attacking line-up. Midfielder Khephren Thuram, who is the younger brother of Borussia Mönchengladbach forward Marcus, is among the substitutes.
ALARIO STILL OUT
Lucas Alario has been Leverkusen’s standout performer this season with 10 goals from 12 appearances in all competitions, but remains on the sidelines with the knee problem that kept him out of Sunday's goalless draw with Hertha Berlin. Patrik Schick continues in attack in the Argentine's stead, with support coming from the fit-again Karim Bellarabi and Moussa Diaby. Nadiem Amiri shakes off a knock to start in midfield, with Florian Wirtz, Leon Bailey and defender Edmond Tapsoba among the players to make way.
Leverkusen need just a point to reach the competition’s knockout stage for the third straight year. Can they get the job done against a Nice team they thumped 6-2 on home soil? Stay tuned...