Then, in the 49th minute, Ömer Toprak lifted a weight off his side's shoulders by opening the scoring. Just over ten minutes later, Hyypiä snuck a look at his phone to see Man United had scored. His nerves were understandable; by his own admission Leverkusen had looked “a bit tired in the opening stages”. Tiredness was understandable, too. This was Bayer 04's third game in all competitions within the first ten days of December.
Hate to say I told you so
To keep their UEFA Champions League dreams alive, the lethargy needed to be lifted. Hyypia’s men demonstrated their abilities in the first half, but too sporadically. Gonzalo Castro hit the bar with a wicked free-kick, while Stefan Kießling's header wasn’t quite accurate enough to beat Enaut Zubikarai in the Sociedad goal. “I said to the boys at half-time that we’d score from a set-piece,” affirmed Hyypiä after the game.
So it was, as Toprak forced the ball home from a corner. “I just feel really happy,” said Töprak, whose juggling finish secured Leverkusen’s passage to the last 16 for the first time since 2011/12. “It’s great fun to be playing for Bayer at the moment,” said the Turk, whose finish came in the clinical fashion which defines Hyypiä’s outfit. Before beating Borussia Dortmund on Matchday 15, Jürgen Klopp had described them as a “results machine”.
Jones' helping hand
Their efficient nature often relies on Stefan Kießling’s poise in front of goal, and the 29-year-old had another excellent game, which deserved to be rewarded. He told Uefa.com after the game that, “the fact we didn’t convert more chances is something that we’ll learn from”. Kießling was desperately unlucky as he struck the woodwork after Toprak’s opener, an effort that, had it gone in, would have allowed Hyypiä to relax.
Phil Jones’ 62nd-minute strike at Old Trafford eventually did that, and Castro felt that despite relying on United, Leverkusen had done enough to merit qualification anyway. “We came here to win and we achieved that,” pointed out the 26-year-old with Spanish heritage. “The season is going well for Leverkusen thus far.”
'No one I'd want to avoid'
Second in the league, in the quarter finals of and now the last 16 of the Champions League, there's not much more die Werkself could have hoped for. “We wanted more than anything to be in the draw for the last 16,” said captain Simon Rolfes. “We showed that and definitely deserved this win.” The last time Leverkusen were in the last 16 draw, they ended up facing FC Barcelona at the peak of their powers - and succumbing to a 10-2 aggregate loss. A repeat is unlikely this time round for the “results machine”.
“I’m relaxed about what happens in the draw,” said Hyypiä. “There’s no one I’d want to avoid.” The reasoning behind that was probably best summed up by Kießling. “We are only just becoming aware of what we can achieve and what our potential is.”