A debut league goal for himself in Werkself colours, another point on the board for the team and more hard evidence of Leverkusen’s status as one of the league’s most exciting outfits left the 20-year-old Turkey international in no doubt that the path they are currently on is the right one ahead of their first UEFA Champions League group-stage clash next week. “This was still a good game for us, and we’d have won it if we’d put away our chances,” he said.
There was little doubting which of the two camps were happier with the point at the final whistle. Bayer should have been out of sight in the first half, yet were held back by some poor finishing and bad luck, with Gonzalo Castro, Emir Spahic and teenage top-flight debutant Levin Öztunali all striking the woodwork, and Karim Bellarabi and Stefan Kießling, among others, spurning presentable opportunities.
Bremen somehow found themselves level at the break and even went ahead on the hour, before a brilliant curling free-kick from Calhanoglu - his first Bundesliga goal for his new club - and a Heung-Min Son effort swung the pendulum back in the home side’s favour, only for the visitors to have the last laugh when Sebastian Prödl crashed in an 85th-minute equaliser.
‘Still a good game’
Nevertheless, Calhanoglu refused to be too downhearted when he spoke exclusively to bundesliga.com after the game. “It doesn’t feel like a defeat, but we are disappointed. We wanted more,” said the former Hamburger SV man, before alluding to what might have been had the visiting goal not led such a charmed life in the opening 45 minutes.
“We had far more chances than Bremen in the first half, but we know they’re a very good team on the counter-attack. We’re happy to have come back from 2-1 down, but perhaps we needed to be a bit cleverer [when leading 3-2]. This was still a good game for us though. We’d have won it if we’d put away our chances in the first half. It was a great game for the fans, though.”
Optimistic for Monaco
Their 100 per cent start to the season in all competitions has now gone, but Leverkusen’s reputation as a team that keeps fans on the edge of their seats remains intact, and Calhanoglu hopes they can draw on the same excitement in their next match, a Champions League group stage opener away at French giants AS Monaco.
“We always try to play well. That’s our system and we’ll go to Monaco looking to play exactly the same way. We won’t underestimate them – we don’t underestimate any opposition. But we will go there with a lot of confidence.”
Bernie Reeves reporting from the BayArena