"We just had no belief," said Ömer Toprak after the disappointing defeat at the BayArena, which evoked memories of a painful 10-2 aggregate elimination to FC Barcelona two seasons ago.
So near, yet so far
"The game was decided in the first half," added Toprak. "We weren’t aggressive enough in the tackle, although we gave it everything in the second half." By then, it was already too late, however, with goals from Blaise Matuidi and a Zlatan Ibrahimovic double already putting the visitors firmly in charge. A red card to Emir Spahic in the second half and a late strike from Yohan Cabaye truly made it a night to forget for Bayer, an even bigger anti-climax than their last home game in the competition, a 5-0 drubbing to Manchester United back in November.
"It’s like we roll the boulder up the hill for the whole year in 34 Bundesliga matches and six group games in the Champions League, and when we're just about at the top, we manage to let it fall back down again," said Stefan Reinartz. "It's just bitter." The disappointment was palpable. "We were all really down in the dressing room," continued the 23-year-old, who was making his comeback after an Achilles injury. "We're just frustrated at the way we manage to throw away everything that we've worked so hard for.”
Over at the break
Leverkusen went into the game with high hopes, mixed with touch of reality to temper their expectations. Facing the French champions who have exercised their weight on the transfer market in recent years was never going to be easy, and Bayer were aware of their role as underdogs. However, in front of their own fans, they had at least hoped to put up more of a fight than they ultimately managed.
"After falling behind early to such a top team, we struggled," admitted coach Sami Hyypiä. "We wanted to defend compactly and break quickly, but I didn't see much of that in the first half." Indeed, Matuidi's third-minute strike changed the game and effectively transformed the tie. "We lost confidence after the first goal," admitted Gonzalo Castro. "It's hard to compete with such a good team. The game was over after by half-time."
Getting back on track
If there can be any reason to be optimistic for the second leg, Leverkusen can nevertheless take inspiration from their coach. The tie is only at its halfway stage, like the 2005 final between AC Milan and Liverpool FC, when Hyypiä's Reds were trailing 3-0 to the Rossoneri at the interval. Arguably the greatest of comebacks in Champions League history ensued, with Hyypiä getting his hands on the prized trophy following a penalty shoot-out triumphant, the match having ended 3-3 after 120 minutes.
The chances of such a recovery at the Parc des Princes stadium appear slim, however, and Leverkusen must now look to return to winning ways in the Bundesliga to ensure they can start pushing that Champions League boulder again next season. "After losing to Kaiserslautern and Schalke, this 4-0 defeat obviously now hurts," said sporting director Rudi Völler."We've got to make sure we turn the corner against Wolfsburg."