The ruthless exposure of a previously undetected weakness, a denial of chances to the opposition for long stretches of the match and a narrow victory. The script for the visit of Atletico Madrid to Bayer Leverkusen may have been predictable but the actors were playing against type.
After a performance in Madrid last time out that promised plenty but delivered nothing, Leverkusen came in to this one knowing defeat would be the end, another early exit for a club that haven’t made the quarterfinal of a European competition since 2008. Just as they had in Spain, Peter Bosz’s men made most of the running but for quite some time their play was a little slow, their passes a little off.
But crucially, they had something else to try, a new route of attack. In his spells both here and at Borussia Dortmund, Bosz has been regarded as something of an ideologue, a man whose attacking principles sometimes come at the cost of points. But here, his side outmanoeuvred Diego Simeone’s men, and turned one of Atleti’s greatest strengths in to a weakness.
“I’m happy about the win but also how we played,” said Bosz after the game. “We were the better team, we played courageously and were well organized.”
“We were snappy in our tackles and defended compact. Exactly what we wanted to do,” added Kevin Volland, emphasizing qualities which Leverkusen often lack.
The home side won a succession of corners in the first half, Kai Havertz often forcing them after drifting in to space on the right. Again and again, Kerem Demirbay or Nadiem Amiri whipped the ball in to the six yard box, in a position usually regarded as too close to the keeper to pose much of a threat.
The danger zone
After a couple of failures, Amiri found his range in the 38th minute and saw Felipe head on to his own bar. Three minutes later, Demirbay hit his mark. Atleti’s keepr Jan Oblak scrambled to keep the ball from dropping in at his near post, Charles Aranguiz looped the ball back in and Thomas Partey inexplicably buried a header past his Slovenian teammate. It may not have worked quite as intended, but it worked.
And it didn’t stop working. After Kevin Volland’s smart control, spin and finish deservedly doubled the Bundesliga side’s lead in the 55th minute, there was almost a repeat of the Partey own goal trick before Havertz flicked on to the roof of the net from yet another corner.
There was no subterfuge here, Leverkusen had found Atleti’s Achilles’ heel, and they had the archers to fire the arrows. They wanted their opponents to know it and frustrated them to the point where a late corner turned in to an almighty penalty box scuffle.
“It caused them a problem every time and we had so many men in the area today that we forced the own goal. It’s really nice to get results from corners,” Leverkusen keeper Lukas Hradecky told DW after the game.
Though Amiri needlessly turned his bow on himself five minutes from time to get sent off and Alvaro Morata made the BayArena crowd a touch nervy in injury time, Leverkusen live to fight another matchday, though closing the four point gap to Wednesday’s opponents won’t be easy.
Things rarely are around here. Leverkusen have shown themselves to be masters of inconsistency in recent seasons and recent weeks. The talent has always been there, the discipline and the plan not so much.
Corners were their unlikely trump card here but the real question is whether this win signifies the turning of one or just another detour. Is Bosz now a man with more than one plan?
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