Rangers 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen – Ibrox – Daniel Pinder
Bayer Leverkusen made it ten games unbeaten in all competitions with a commanding performance at Ibrox against Rangers that has put them in good stead for the return leg at the BayArena with three away goals.
Taking charge of penalty duties, captain Kai Havertz scored from the spot 15 minutes before the break after George Edmundson deemed to have handled the ball in the area. VAR confirmed this, but the handball law in Europe is a harsh one given the 22-year-old was unable to react quick enough to move his hand out of the way of Charles Aránguiz’ cross.
The visitors dominated the opening 45 minutes but the introduction of Florian Kamberi lifted Rangers after the break. Alfredo Morelos forced Lukas Hradecky into a fine save to keep Leverkusen a slender lead whilst Steven Gerrard will be disappointed that his side were unable to take their clear-cut chance.
Charles Aranguiz popped up with Bayer Leverkusen’s second against the run of play but it just shows how good this Bayer Leverkusen side are at the minute. All was not lost though, after giving away a penalty in the first-half, Edmundson popped up to bring the tie to within one but Leon Bailey’s goal three minutes from time puts this tie beyond any doubt.
Bayer Leverkusen came to play
Peter Bosz made three changes from Bayer Leverkusen’s 4-0 win against Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday but that didn’t affect the Dutchman’s possession-based philosophy. Aleksandar Dragović and Jonathan Tah returned in defence for Bayer – the latter a welcomed addition given his ability to play it out from the back.
There was also a start for Kerem Demirbay, who partnered Chilean Charles Aránguiz in centre-midfield. With 72% possession in the opening 45 minutes, Bayer Leverkusen dominated the ball, but didn’t over-exert themselves. Instead, they probed the Rangers defence without the need to really get out of second gear until Edmundson brought the Gers to within one.
When Rangers were not able to capitalise on their chances, Leverkusen probed which saw Bailey add an important third for Bayer Leverkusen.
Is there nothing this kid can’t do? At 20-years-old, Kai Havertz already looks like a seasoned professional. Peter Bosz giving the captaincy to the German international has matured the midfielder, who lead the line for Bayer Leverkusen at Ibrox.
As a midfielder, his instinct was to drop deeper which meant that Bayer Leverkusen didn’t have a focal point in attack, with the absence of Kevin Volland and Lucas Alario. However, his off the ball movement proved problematic for the Rangers defence. Playing as a false 9, Havertz also popped up on the left and right flank, which Rangers were unable to track.
Havertz has now scored three in three in the Europa League, taking his tally to 11 for the season.
Despite not seeing much of the ball in the opening 45 minutes, Steven Gerrard’s introduction of Florian Kamberi 12 minutes into the second-half gave the Rangers fans a boost. Ryan Kent switched to the right-hand side to allow Kamberi to occupy the left and Alfredo Morelos through the middle. The Colombian was put through by Kent, who forced Lukas Hradecky into a magnificent save to keep Leverkusen in the lead.
Rangers were clearly up for this fixture and all was not lost. The changes Gerrard made gave Rangers that extra motivation that they can get something from this Europa League fixture despite the lapse in concentration for Bayer Leverkusen’s second goal. The second-half was an improvement and there are certainly some positives to take for Gerrard. Had Rangers not conceded a third, Edmundson’s goal would have given Rangers a glimmer of hope in the second leg.