FEATURE | Bayer Leverkusen well placed for a deep run in the Europa League but Rangers will be ready

FC Porto 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen – Estádio do Dragão – Matthew Marshall

Bayer Leverkusen defeated Porto 3-1 at the Estádio do Dragão to secure a 5-2 aggregate win in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32. Lucas Alario, Kerem Demirbay and Kai Havertz were on target as Peter Bosz’s side outclassed the Portuguese club over both legs, deservedly advancing to set up a Round of 16 tie against Rangers.

Job done in Portugal

Bayer Leverkusen were in full control of the first tie at the BayArena after establishing a 2-0 lead in the 57th minute. The German club lost their grip on the game however and allowed Porto to score an away goal that could have had serious ramifications.

In the end it was nothing more than a consolation for Porto who were completely outplayed at the Estádio do Dragão. Leverkusen were superior tactically, individually and collectively with Kai Havertz the star after registering two assists and a goal.

The 20-year-old set up Lucas Alario in the 10th minute and provided an assist for Kerem Demirbay in the 50th minute. Havertz then put the result beyond doubt after finishing off a team move that he initiated with a clever header.

Porto required five unanswered goals which was never going to happen. Moussa Marega’s goal was the very definition of a consolation goal, Porto were down for the count and their supporters received a serious reality check.

Class above

Bayer Leverkusen demonstrated their superiority in almost every aspect of the game. Porto don’t have a playmaker near the level of Kai Havertz despite Otávio’s best efforts at the Dragão.

The Dragons were outclassed in central midfield as Sérgio Oliveira and Mateus Uribe were unable to influence the tie and mainly chased the ball. Danilo’s injury problems linger to hurt Porto in a vital area of the pitch where Charles Aránguiz, Kerem Demirbay and Nadiem Amiri shined.

Edmond ‘Interception King’ Tapsoba continues to improve in defence and thrived back in Portugal. Pepe’s introduction at half time showed how much Sérgio Conceição relies on the 37-year-old but it was too little too late.

Alex Telles and Jesus Corona are Porto’s most dangerous and consistent weapons but were largely held in check. Peter Bosz got his tactics spot on in Porto, the match was always going to favour his side who are lethal on the counter attack.

Rangers will be ready

Rangers might be too far behind Celtic to catch their Glasgow rivals in the Scottish Premiership, but Steven Gerrard’s side have been tough to beat in the Europa League and are a dangerous opponent. The Gers got past Feyenoord, Young Boys and Porto in the group stage before a hard fought 4-3 aggregate win against Sporting Braga.

They have lost just once in 28 home matches in the Europa League and won seven of eight at Ibrox this season. The January loan signing of Ianis Hagi has proved a very sharp acquisition with the Romanian youngster a dominant force against Braga.

Gerrard’s tactics in the Europa League have been impressive while the central midfield trio of Ryan Jack, Steven Davis and Scott Arfield provide stability. Temperamental striker Alfredo Morales is extremely hard to handle and could cause Leverkusen plenty of problems.

Bosz ball can triumph

We have been used to Bayer Leverkusen monopolising the ball, especially at the BayArena where they regularly achieve more than 70% possession. Their ability to be patient and wait for openings provided by their speedsters will hold them in good stead against the Scottish club.

The lengthy loss of Kevin Volland is a bitter blow but Lucas Alario is an accomplished striker, highlighted by scoring his last five goals at a rate of one every 81.8 minutes. Kai Havertz has hit top form and it would be little surprise if he dominated the tie.

Leverkusen’s strength in central midfield gives Bosz plenty of options and variations. Out wide he can pair Karim Bellarabi with Moussa Diaby or sacrifice one of them for more stability. It won’t be easy and Rangers should not be underestimated, but Bayer Leverkusen bossed Porto and are more than capable of repeating the feat.

Draw wide open

Bayer Leverkusen have come a long way from their disappointing Round of 32 Europa League exit against Krasnodar a year ago. Bosz and his side gained plenty of experience from facing Juventus and Atletico Madrid in the Champions League group stage and beat the Spanish club 2-1 at the BayArena.

With Sevilla drawn against Roma and the English clubs facing tricky first legs in Austria and Greece, the road to the final could be favourable for the Werkself should they account for Rangers.  Leverkusen have won nine of their last 10 matches, confidence is high and a positive result in Leipzig on Sunday will be a perfect springboard.


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