Bayer Leverkusen 0-2 Juventus, BayArena (Ronaldo 75′, Higuain 90’+2)
It’ll be the Europa League for Leverkusen then. The Bundesliga side made a decent fist of it, but lacked a sense of adventure against a Juventus side who played well within themselves. The Old Lady’s own status as Group D winners was already secure, and Leverkusen needed to risk it all to stand a chance of pulling off a memorable victory. But they played it a bit too safe and were punished.
This was a lesson for a youthful but naive Werkself, who had given themselves a slim chance of qualification for the last 16 with back-to-back victories coming into this game, crucially over their direct rivals for qualification, Atletico. In short, Leverkusen needed to win and hope Atletico didn’t.
Peter Bosz’s in-form side met a Juventus team who have far too much big-game experience to ever be concerned here. The game was decided by a single moment of quality with 15 minutes to go. Substitute Paulo Dybala’s injection of pace left Sven Bender in his wake, and Cristiano Ronaldo was left with a tap-in. BayArena fell silent, but for a pocket of rambunctious Juve fans stuffed into the away corner. Gonzalo Higuain thrashed in another in stoppage time, and the ball had barely hit the back of net before you could hear the sound of thousands of plastic seats tipping up.
This was a night when Leverkusen were high on intensity and intent, and against lesser teams would have knocked in two or three, but against these wily old Champions League campaigners, something a little extra special was required. The man they often look to for inspiration, Kai Havertz, who could have scored on the stroke of half time if not for a brilliant last-ditch tackle by Merih Demiral, displayed an array of elegant touches and vision beyond his years. His assets were complimented by Moussa Diaby’s directness and eye for goal, which he showed when he rattled the post in the 11th minute, leaving his former teammate Gianluigi Buffon rooted to the spot.
Diaby, a 20-year-old signed from Paris Saint-Germain in the close season, has proved the kind of acquisition that could make the difference for Leverkusen in Europe’s second tier competition. For all of Juventus’ experience, Diaby was the one player who had Danilo and Demiral on the back foot whenever he touched the ball.
“We are disappointed in the locker room,” Diaby told DW. “We gave everything but Juventus are a tough team to play. They defend really well and we tried everything to beat them. Luck wasn’t on our side.”
Luck may not have been on their side, but there can be no doubt that Juventus’ victory was thoroughly deserved. If nothing else, it was a lesson in ruthlessness. Diaby is a player very much in the mould of Bosz, and a symbol of what Leverkusen may achieve in the competition, one which the Dutchman almost won with Ajax in 2017.
“We go into the Europa League next year and will give everything to win that competition,” Diaby added. “We have good players, a good mentality and we will try again.”
Leverkusen were always the outsiders in a Champions League group that contained two of Europe’s big-hitters. Bosz’s side have discovered that they don’t belong in such company yet, but they have the quality to ruffle some feathers again on the European stage in 2020.
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