“Atlético were merciless in punishing our mistakes,” said Roger Schmidt after crashing against Diego Simeone’s side. A match against last season’s beaten finalists was never going to be easy in the Round of 16 for Bayer Leverkusen, but after succumbing to a 4-2 defeat against Atlético, Roger Schmidt’s job now hangs in the balance with the return leg a crucial one.
Fourth in La Liga, the Spanish side dismantled their Bundesliga opposition in devastating fashion on Tuesday night. Just eight minutes between Saúl Ñíguez’ opening goal and Antoine Griezmann’s clinical finish following a sublime counter-attack, it was all downhill from there.
Despite possessing all the right attributes going forward; wing-backs Benjamin Henrichs and Wendell once again showed their inability to defend. The duo were caught out several times and had it not have been for Bernd Leno, it could well have been more than four on the night.
Leverkusen at one point did look like getting back into the tie. Karim Bellarabi pulled a goal back just three minutes into the second-half. But once again, a calamitous performance at the back killed this tie for die Werkself. Kevin Gameiro’s penalty made it three before a Stefan Savic own goal gave fans some hope, but it was Fernando Torres who put it to bed, meaning Leverkusen now need at least three goals to progress.
Whilst it’s easy to blame both Henrichs and Wendell, Schmidt needs to take a closer look at both Ömer Toprak and Aleksander Dragovic. A woeful clearance from the latter was intercepted by Gameiro who held the ball up superbly to assist Griezmann for Atlético’s second whilst Torres nodded in their fourth.
A bold move from Schmidt saw 17-year-old Kai Havertz start his first Champions League tie in the absence of Hakan Calhanoglu, who received a four-month suspension for breach of contract in 2011. Although a poor game from the kid, he’s the bright spark in this Leverkusen side, but perhaps the European stage isn’t where he’s at right now – despite a MOTM performance against Augsburg at the weekend.
With two Bundesliga defeats already in 2017, Schmidt is starting to feel the pressure. Whilst it’s unlikely that he’ll be dismissed during the season, if he doesn’t qualify for next season’s Champions League, it’s hard to see him in charge of Bayer Leverkusen next campaign.
Two-nil up against Borussia Mönchengladbach, Leverkusen then conceded three. Something a team of B04’s calibre really should not be doing. Following that, Schmidt’s side suffered a defeat against Hamburger SV, who are currently battling relegation. A win against third placed Eintracht Frankfurt did relieve some pressure, but fans are expecting more from Schmidt and Leverkusen this season.
What once seemed like a promising project, it looks as though this one is starting to flail. Schmidt brought high pressure and attacking play to this Leverkusen side since his arrival in 2014, but failure to pick up points against Mainz, Borussia Dortmund and Werder Bremen – whom they play before the return leg – could see his job hang in the balance.
By Daniel Pinder.