Bayer 04 Leverkusen endured more disappointment in the UEFA Champions League, going down to two late goals in Barcelona, but Roger Schmidt and his players have every reason to be proud of their performance at Camp Nou.
Brimming with confidence once again following two clean sheet victories in the Bundesliga, Schmidt made four changes to Saturday's victorious team. In came Javier Hernandez, Hakan Calhanoglu, Wendell and Kevin Kampl, replacing Stefan Kießling, Sebastien Boenisch, Admire Mehmedi and Julian Brandt.
I said in my preview that I felt that Leverkusen would cause the injury plagued European Champions problems, and that indeed proved to be the case. Little more than a minute into the contest, Karim Bellarabi crossed low from the right, and Hernandez forced a smart stop from ex-Gladbach goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen low down at his near post.
Barça responded with a header from Ivan Rakitic going straight at Bernd Leno. Sandro Ramirez was named in their starting lineup due to the injury suffered by Lionel Messi, and he hit a left foot shot that brought a fantastic one handed stop from Leno.
Midway through the first half, Leverkusen stunned the home fans into silence. Calhanoglu – surely on the radar of Barcelona and other big clubs – swung in a near post corner, which Kyriakos Papadopoulos headed in. The big Greek defender lost his marker Luis Suarez, and ter Stegen was also at fault, with Papa connecting with the corner from about six inches out. Bellarabi could and maybe should have made it two, but ter Stegen saved his powerful shot with his shoulder.
Barcelona almost levelled before the break, but spurned a double chance, and Papadopoulos was the hero once again. Neymar placed a shot that looked destined to nestle into the bottom corner, but a slight deflection carried it onto the post. Sandro Ramirez lashed the rebound goalwards, but Papa somehow managed to deflect the ball up and over the crossbar.
The second half started as it did the first; with Javier Hernandez missing a good chance. Bellarabi again loaded the gun, but “Chicharito” blazed the ball over when in acres of space and with only the goalkeeper to beat. Shortly after, he was replaced by Stefan Kießling, with Roger Schmidt possibly hoping the powerful frontman would be able to hold the ball, and see out the game.
There were not many chances in the second half, but it was still an entertaining watch. It was two of Luis Enrique's replacements that turned the game on its head. Ten minutes from the end, Munir El Haddadi fired in a shot which Leno couldn't hold, and Sergi Roberto tapped in on the rebound. Sixty seconds later, Munir teed up Luis Suarez for a thumping shot from sixteen yards which are owed into the roof of the net, leaving Leno helpless.
So, another painful defeat in Spain after last season's penalty shootout heartbreak against Atletico Madrid, and again it was a game that Leverkusen probably should have won. Roger Schmidt got his tactics right throughout the match, and only some poor finishing cost them.
Hopefully, this loss will not damage the rebound form and confidence domestically, and in terms of Group E, it could not be more open. Roma lost 3-2 at BATE Borisov, meaning that Barcelona are in first place with four points. Leverkusen are joined by BATE on three, with Roma on one. The double header against the Italians is now absolutely vital for Leverkusen. Four points or better from the two encounters would see die Werkself in a very strong position, and possibly even through if they can win both and Barça win home and away against Borisov.