Ok, so we tried to record a podcast this Monday morning to cover the CL match against Bartha and the BuLi match against FC Augsburg. To that end, Frieda and Tom joined me (Eric) to discuss the match against the Tapas-Fressern, and the always lovely, and new mother!, @kristaldo1907, joined us to talk about the match against FCA. Thanks to an iMac computer that is roughly 10 years old, the recording didn’t work out, so all we’re left with is one pissed off (and slightly drunk) Los Angeleno and the memories of a wonderful discussion. I’m going to try to point out some highlights from the discussion in the following post. And then I’m going to beat my head against a wall for 90 minutes…get ready for some swears, by the way.
So last week saw Bayer Leverkusen travel to the Camp Nou for their second group match against the group favorite, FC Barthelona (Catalan ist angesagt). The team went into the fixture with confidence, having previously come away victorious against FSV Mainz and Werder Bremen in their league matches, and it didn’t hurt that a certain player, who scored five goals against us the last time we played, was missing. And while Messi’s absence may have been apparent throughout the match, let’s not forget that players like Suarez and Neymar were still on the pitch…and for the most part ineffective. For the most part.
The game got off to a typically Schmidt-ian start with Bayer forcing the issue and using their high pressing line to make things difficult for Barfa. Chicharito and the rest of the attackers (KK, Haki, and Kimo) constantly strove to take the ball away in the opponent’s defensive half, and, somewhat strangely, Farcelona didn’t look as though they had ever seen this style of play. Probably too busy re-watching the match from several years ago. Instead, Roger Schmidt’s charges took the game to the current CL-winner and continually forced them to play out of their own end with high balls and passes out to the wings (I could use a high ball myself, btw). Still, the Leverkusen defense was more than up to the task, and here I have to praise two players whose recent performances have been, in a word, sick.
Jonathan “Brickhouse” Tah and Kyriakos “Zeus” Papadopoulos marshaled a defense that looked totally in control throughout most of the match and denied opportunities to Barca’s billion-dollar front-line with tough tackles, great positioning, and just general good-lookingness (because these boys are hot!). Seriously, though, Papa’s tackles and that clearance off the line in the first half were a testament to his tenacity, while Tahminator simply beat any and everyone to the ball thanks to his size (unreal) and his quickness (more unreal). The Young Ones….forever we’re the Young Ones…the Young Ones….will never be afraid. A hymn that I hope we can continue to sing until they become the “Old Ones.” Quick shout-out to Giulio Donati, who is playing due to an injury to Roberto “Glueckspitz” Hilbert (I kid, because I love), and has filled in admirably over the last several competitive matches. Forza Bayer indeed!
Bayer’s goal from a corner kick was certainly a welcome surprise to all Leverkusen fans, not least of all because it made Andre ter Stegen look like the flapping fool we know him to be. Haki swung one in and Papa (Greek god of headers) nudged the ball past a ridiculously placed Suarez and ter Stegen. Seriously…I can’t tell you enough how much this goal excited me. Papa doing what he does best and ter Stegen, too. (I’ll get to Leno’s Patzer vs. FCA in the next post for those of you keeping score). Anywho, we were up 1-0 in the Camp Nou (i.e. the Hurt Locker) with all to play for. And we continued to take the game to them! Fuck parking the bus, if we were going to lose (which we did), it was going to be with guns blazing.
The start to the second half saw more of the same. Bayer, Bayer, Bayer! Sadly, the man we brought in this summer to score us some goals had a rather forgettable day. Yeah, we didn’t buy him because he’s a good passer of the ball (he’s not…he’s awful), but for god’s sake!!, you have to finish that move, Chicharito. Lean forward, inside of your boot…just like you were taught in the U8s! With that skyed opportunity gone missing, the Bayer game plan seemed to follow suit. Ever more defensive and, especially once Kiessling was subbed in, ever more concerned with mitigating damage, Bayer were ripe to concede an ultimately sloppy goal in the 80th minute. Kies, I think, lost the ball in the midfield, and before you knew it, Sergio Roberto was following up his parried shot with a less-than-glamorous follow up. What a fucker.
Roger Schmidt’s system demands full physical and mental concentration at all time, so it wasn’t a surprise when a rather tired Bayer team left the right wing open for a Shitcelona surprise. Munir managed to take the ball all the way to the LEV touchline and then crossed to an open Suarez at the penalty spot. He put one into the top right-hand corner past Bernd Leno, that no keeper could have stopped. He then bit a small child in the face and laughed as the blood flowed from his wound. Here you could argue that Jonathan Tah probably should have been closer to his man, only coming out to check him after the pass to Suarez had been made, but that would be to diminish Suarez’s amazing (and typical) finish. What a fucker.
And that’s how the match ended. 2-1 for the richest, most powerful club in the world. A couple of things…Kies came on for Chicharito, and, holy cow, the game almost came to a complete stop. He’s one of my all-time favorite players, but to ignore his lack of pace in a system that requires it is dumbcelona. A better sub would have probably been Admir “MEMO!” Mehmedi, who can play that *gag* false nine position like Hernandez. Whatever. Nevertheless, the defensive midfield duo of Lars “Manni” Bender and Cristoph “Nickname” Kramer proved that they’re the foundation of this team. I can’t say enough about their recent performances….at one point, the Neverkusen Crew questioned who would be that vital offensive spark from that position, but seriously, that’s not an issue. These two are world-class players doing their jobs, and we can only hope that they’ll be at Bayer for a little while longer.
Oh, and a big nod of recognition to Kevin Kampl. Say what you will about his haircut, but it isn’t any more offensive than Gonzalo Castro’s face (hell, less so, actually). Herr Schmidt went out on the proverbial limb to get him to transfer to Bayer and rewarded him with an important role right off the bat. KK has done nothing but exceed expectations since then, and when he’s played in his preferred position on the wing, he’s a dream. Even the experiment with him at the 6 is ok, but only when we’re playing much weaker opposition. Whatever…an 11Mil Euro Schnaeppchen.
Next up in the CL is AS Roma. They’ll be without Hot Totti and Edxzixzxn Djekscxnxo (so many consonants). Very doable match in the BayArena. A win would help solidify the current second place standing in the group, and if history is anything to go by, we all know that the Romans eventually capitulate to the Germans (“Varus! Give me back my legions!”). Anyway…this one was a heart breaker, but still promising. Bayer Leverkusen have shown in the last two years that they deserve to be a top European team. And, this year, with a deep squad that allows for some important rotation, the CL playoff matches don’t appear to distant. Hard luck, Bayer, to lose the way you did…but we love you. AND WE’RE PROUD OF YOU!