Matthew Marshall – BayArena
Bayer Leverkusen will play Europa League football next year following a 2-0 defeat against Juventus at the BayArena. The Werkself had the better of the first half but were outclassed after the break, Paulo Dybala came off the bench to provide goals for Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain.
Leverkusen unable to capitalise
Moussa Diaby’s long range strike hit the post and Karim Bellarabi’s low drive was punched away by Gianluigi Buffon as Leverkusen threatened to score. Bellarabi turned provider after Adrien Rabiot’s slip, Kai Havertz was denied by a crucial block from Merih Demiral on the stroke of half-time.
Charles Aranguiz shot wide in a crowded penalty box after winning the ball in midfield, but it was too little too late as the hosts ultimately revealed why they will not be continuing in the Champions League.
Juventus’ class prevails
Gonzalo Higuain’s cross was too strong with Ronaldo ready to pounce, CR7 dragged a shot wide after isolating Aleksandar Dragovic and Higuain shot over the bar. Maurizio Sarri made some adjustments at the break, namely putting more pressure on Leverkusen’s full-backs and that’s where the match was won.
It was inevitable that Sarri would introduce Paulo Dybala, the Argentine playmaker came on for Federico Bernardeschi in the 66th minute. The Juventus support had been quiet until that moment but were clearly enthused by Dybala’s entrance and his answer was swift.
Nine minutes after his introduction, Dybala got behind Lars Bender and cut out the Leverkusen defence with a pinpoint pass to Ronaldo. The Portuguese prowler had shown trademark anticipation and positioning for his 128th UEFA Champions League goal.
A long ball in added time saw Higuain outmuscle Dragovic, Dybala picking up the crumbs and Higuain shooting with power to put the result beyond doubt.
Leverkusen’s hope fades
It was always going to be a tall order for Bayer Leverkusen, needing to beat Juventus and hope Atletico Madrid failed to beat Lokomotiv Moscow in Spain. In the end it was a bridge too far. Losing the opening three matches sealed their fate but falling into the Europa League is a decent consolation prize.
Peter Bosz commented after the game: “We unfortunately haven‘t reached the next round, but we’ve played six games at the top level. Through such matches, we‘ll get better.” Maybe, but Bosz’s side first have to show they can replace Julian Brandt’s production and improve defensively.
Havertz a victim of Brandt’s departure
Julian Brandt joined Borussia Dortmund for €25m in the summer, a bargain price for a player of his class who scored seven goals and provided 11 assists in the Bundesliga last season. Brandt recently reminded us what he is capable of with two goals and three assists in his last six appearances for club and country.
Many assumed the Werkself signing Kerem Demirbay and Nadiem Amiri would replace Brandt’s production but it hasn’t happened. The former Hoffenheim duo have combined for just two goals and two assists in 1669 Bundesliga minutes.
Before playing an important offensive role in Dortmund’s 2-1 win against Slavia Prague, Brandt told Bundesliga.com: “It always felt like Marco (Reus) was in a different position on the pitch. But I’ve realised that things could turn out to be the same as they were for me last season with Kai Havertz at Bayer Leverkusen.”
Not only did Leverkusen lose one of their shining stars, the luster of the other has diminished as a result. Dortmund’s gain has been Leverkusen’s loss in more ways than one.
Moussa moving up
Moussa Diaby was the most dangerous player on the pitch in the first half, bursting through the Juventus midfield with constant attempts to unlock the Juventus defence. He was denied by the woodwork, couldn’t connect on a Lars Bender cross and provided a chance for Bellarabi to show exactly why Bosz has persisted with the 20-year-old in the starting line-up.
The French winger has the pace and potential to develop into a fearsome weapon.
Juventus were too passive in the first half, their midfield struggling with Adrien Rabiot way off the pace. Constant turnovers presented Leverkusen with opportunities, Kai Havertz was enjoying too much open space and the wide areas were not being exploited.
Sarri and Ronaldo were regularly unhappy with the approach and half-time was key. The Italian tactician deserves credit for making the necessary adjustments that turned the game in Juve’s favour.
The magnetism of Ronaldo’s presence was too much for a few to handle, three ‘supporters’ managing to invade the pitch in separate incidents and get within touching distance of the Portuguese superstar. Another launched himself over the Juventus dugout where he fell short of the sideline.
Security failed miserably and more needs to be done to ensure player safety without compromising the intimacy of the game.