Advantage Lazio: Bayer Leverkusen Champions League aspirations put on the ropes

Bayer Leverkusen have it all to do in the return-leg at the Bay-Arena next week after going down to a 1-0 defeat to Lazio in a very entertaining Champions League qualifier. Without the priceless away goal, Bayer will have to put in quite a performance in the second leg to take their place in this season’s group stage.

Roger Schmidt sent out the Werkself unchanged from their weekend win over Hoffenheim meaning new signing Charles Aranguiz had to settle for a place on the bench once more. The centre-back partnership was once again Jonathan Tah and Kyriakos Papadopoulos.

In fact, the Leverkusen starting XI contained seven of the players that were knocked out of the Champions League last March on penalties by Atletico Madrid.

The Serie A season has yet to get underway, but if there had been any thought that Lazio would be a little rusty, that was soon dispelled as the Romans made a lively start.

With the game settling into an entertaining groove, it burst into life in the 26th minute with both teams going extremely close to opening the scoring. First, Lars Bender fired in a missile of a shot that cannoned back off the post.

Straight away, Lazio were on the counter. Within 30 seconds of the Bender miss, Miroslav Klose had rounded Bernd Leno only to go a little wide before he too steered his shot against the post.

Not bad for a 37-year-old! The German veteran has still got a decent burst of pace.

The first half was also notable for the majestic performance of young Jonathan Tah at the heart of the Bayer back four. The 19-year-old was like a hoover striding around sucking up any little bit of danger posed by the hosts.

If there is a Jonathan Tah appreciation society, I might have to join on this display. If there’s not, I’ll jolly well start one myself.

That little burst from Klose, might have worn the old fella out though as he was subbed at halftime with the Biancocelesti sending on a player 17 years his junior, Keita Baldé Diao. Leverkusen also made a change with Admir Mehmedi replacing Son.

Fifteen minutes in, Lazio conceded a dangerous free-kick on the edge of their box. Both Wendell and Roberto Hilbert looked interested, but there was only ever going to one man for the job, Hakan ‘the set-piece meister’ Calhanoglu. His effort was decent, but keeper Etrit Berisha was up to the task.

Drama ensued twenty minutes from the end when Leverkusen had a goal ruled out for offside. Bellarabi’s effort looked to be going wide, but it deflected in off Kießling, who was judged offside. It looked initially to have been a harsh decision but replays show the linesman got it right.

The Bundesliga side were soon made to pay. Lazio broke in on them and scored against the run of play when it looked like the visitors were the more likely to score. Keita burst forward and produced a precise finish beating both Tah and Leno.

Keita’s pace then caught poor Papadopoulos out and the Greek was lucky to escape with just a yellow card for bringing down the speedy forward.

In the end, 1-0 is not a disaster for Leverkusen, but Lazio now have something to defend in the return leg. Based on tonight’s game, both these teams would be a great addition to the Champions League, but sadly one of them will be facing the agony of missing out next week.

1-0 Keita (77)

Lazio: Berisha, Basta, de Vrij (Gentiletti 88), Mauricio, Lulic, Onazi (Savic 53), Biglia, Parolo, Candreva, Klose (Keita 46), Felipe Anderson

Leverkusen: Leno, Hilbert, Tah, Papadopoulos, Wendell, Bender, Kramer, Bellarabi, Son (Mehmedi 46), Calhanoglu (Brandt 84), Kießling (Kruse 93)

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Mathew Burt

A year spent living in Bremen got Mathew hooked on the Bundesliga with regular visits to the Weser Stadion getting in the way of his studies. Back in the UK now, he still keenly follows the Grün-Weißen and German football in general. Follow him on Twitter @matburt74.