Bayer 04 Leverkusen will participate in the UEFA Europa League in the new year after a 1-1 draw with FC Barcelona at the BayArena on Wednesday night, combined with AS Roma’s stalemate against FC BATE Borisov, condemned Die Werkself to third place UEFA Champions League Group E.
Goals: 1-0 Messi (20’), 1-1 Chicharito (23’)
Knowing that only a win would provide any chance of qualification, Leverkusen, backed by a buoyant home crowd, began well. Roger Schmidt’s side pinned the visitors back early and came close with a wicked Hakan Calhanoglu free-kick. Just as Bayer were further ramping up the pressure, however, Barca struck, Lionel Messi beating the offside trap to score the opener. It took but three minutes for Die Werkself to respond, though, Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez finishing clinically inside the box. The impressive Calhanoglu then threatened twice as Leverkusen came closest to the next goal before the break.
Schmidt's troops began the second period in the same full-throttle fashion. Calhanoglu should have done better in the 49th minute after an excellent ball from Chicharito, while Karim Bellarabi was also guilty of spurning a gilt-edged chance provided by the Mexican ten minutes later. After the hour-mark, however, the chances began to dry up as Leverkusen ran out of ideas in the face of Barca’s well-drilled rearguard. Kevin Kampl and Bellarabi both tested Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the closing stages, but despite their best efforts, Leverkusen’s continental efforts will be in the Europa, not the Champions League, in the new year.
Man of the match
Chicharito was yet again Leverkusen’s stand-out player. The Mexico international was full of running, harrying Barca’s defenders into losing the ball and always offering his team-mates an outlet going forward. His goal was the minimum he deserved for another display that underlined just how well he has settled into life at the BayArena.
Although Leverkusen have struggled domestically of late, this was a performance to underline the quality in and mentality of Schmidt’s young squad. Die Werkself more than held their own against the European champions and if this performance can be repeated in the Bundesliga, starting with top-four rivals Borussia Mönchengladbach on Sunday, there is no reason Bayer will not be participating at Europe’s top table again next term.
- Chicharito has netted 12 goals in his last 11 games in all competitions.
- Leverkusen fired in more shots, and more of them on target, than their illustrious visitors.
- The UEFA Europa League draw takes place on Monday at 13:00CET/12:00GMT.
Leverkusen: Leno - Hilbert, Tah, Toprak (c), Wendell – Kramer (Papadopoulos, 90'), Kampl – Mehmedi (Kießling, 70’), Calhanoglu (Brandt, 79’), Bellarabi - Hernandez
Barcelona: Ter Stegen – Adriano, Bartra, Vermaelen, Alba (Camara, 74’) – Samper, Rakitic, Kaptoum (Gumbau, 62’) – Messi (c), Munir, Sandro