Barcelona - It took two goals in the final ten minutes from FC Barcelona to deny Bayer 04 Leverkusen back-to-back UEFA Champions League victories. Sergi Roberto and Luis Suarez's strikes ultimately denied Roger Schmidt's men a most famous of triumphs, but there was praise from all quarters for the visitors' bravura display.
"If we're honest, we should have won here," said Christoph Kramer. There are no prizes for second place at this level, however, and despite a display in which Leverkusen matched the European Champions punch for punch, they returned home empty-handed. "We would have been heroes for a couple of days," he continued. "That’'s another reason it's really frustrating not to have taken something back with us."
Yet while the disappointment was understandable, Roberto Hilbert, whose last appearance in Leverkusen colours at the Camp Nou in 2012 ended in a 7-1 defeat, was another to praise his side's performance. "The most important thing was how we played," said the second-half substitute. "We represented Bayer Leverkusen well." Die Werkself could have gone ahead in the first minute through Javier Hernandez, before Kyriakos Papadopoulos headed home Hakan Calhangolu's corner for a merited opening goal halfway through the first period.
'Have to take your chances'
The opener was just reward for a display which, until the dramatic closing stages, foiled the five-time European champions. "They didn't really know how to play against us," explained Bernd Leno. Yet not even that proved quite enough. "Unfortunately we couldn't make it 2-0," said Lars Bender, in reference to a glorious second-half opportunity put over by Hernandez. "You have to use your chances better against Barcelona," said Hilbert.
It was a chance built from the back, with centre-half duo Papadopoulos and Jonathan Tah hardly putting a foot wrong all night. "For long periods they were outstanding," explained Schmidt, not the only man in the dugout lauding his side's display. "Leverkusen deserve our praise," said Barca coach Luis Enrique. "They hardly gave away the ball and it was really difficult for us to relieve the pressure they put on."
"We were on the verge of beating Barcelona, and a victory would have given us a huge boost going into the next few weeks," surmised Bender. Yet regardless of the result, the performance will give the players no end of confidence, and with FC Augsburg visiting this weekend, Fuggerstädter coach Markus Weinzierl would do well to heed Enrique's post-match comments.
Leverkusen will return to the bread and butter of league action beaten, but unbowed. "The defeat's not a problem," said Kevin Kampl, one of the last to trudge out from the catacombs of the Camp Nou. "We want to continue our improvement from the last few weeks, and, even though we lost, the game here is part of that upward curve, too. We've made a statement with this performance."