Losing Messi to a knee injury, football fans wanted to know how Barcelona would respond to the absence of a player of such quality. And through the first half, Barcelona was certainly not the better side. Bayer Leverkusen not only produced the majority of opportunities in the first 45 but looked the more spirited and in step of the two teams. But, Barcelona showed resolve and let fans know that one player does not make a championship team. With a gritty second half performance, they showed that they still had enough talent to find a way to net two in the last ten minutes of the game and secured the three points.
Barcelona 2-1 Leverkusen
Goal 1 – Papadopoulos (22’)
With numbers behind the ball and some stagnant defending by the Barcelona midfield just near half field, Bayer was able to win a loose ball and spring Bellarabi out wide. In what was a theme for the first half, Leverkusen’s work ethic and what felt like a greater emotional investment than their opposition, forced Barcelona to then concede a corner in the 21st minute after Bellarabi tried to play the ball back across the 6 yard box.
Even with the comparable difference in collective attitudes between the sides during the first half, Leverkusen’s goal was of tremendous execution and Barcelona, no matter the circumstance, may not have been able to do anything to prevent it. The first detail worth noting about this goal is the extreme angle Calhanoglu approached the ball with as he prepared to take the corner. Most often, players will take something around a 45 degree approach to the ball, but he is instead perpendicular to the goal line, even having to move some of the camera equipment out of the way to secure the proper preparatory movements.
Traditionally, with such a sharp approach to the ball and considering Calhanoglu will be hitting the ball so that it is an inswinger, goalkeepers and defenders would assume the ball’s flight would carry a little bit further out from the mouth of the goal as seen below— around 6 to 8 yards from the goal itself.
This idea was exactly what Bayer wanted the Barcelona players to be thinking. Leverkusen then further disguised the trajectory of the ball out of the corner by having Jonathan Tah make a great run from inside the box to a couple yards outside, dragging Barcelona’s Rakitic with him and forcing Mathieu’s first step to be away from the near post.
Then Calhanoglu was able to, with impeccable body control, play a tremendous driven ball into the near post. The combination of the clever misdirection from Bayer Leverkusen, in conjunction with the an absolutely beautiful service with pace and clearance over Luis Suarez’s head, and the anticipation of Papadopoulos standing his ground as Mathieu became wrong footed, resulted in an absolutely beautiful goal for the away side. Below, you can see Papadopoulos use Mathieu’s first step away from goal to nudge him off balance so that is able to have a go at the header relatively unchallenged.
Goal 2 – Sergi (80’)
It took another 58 minutes before Barcelona was able to find a way back into the game. In the 80th minute, substitute Sergi Roberto found a way to make an impact, netting the tying goal.
This goal began with Busquets winning back the ball from Bayer. Out of shape from quickly winning and then losing possession with a couple second, Bayer who had been playing with a balanced midfield of four during the second half, found themselves with a huge space between their right midfielder and closest center midfielder. Busquets, sharply, after winning possession, played a great pass to Sergi Roberto, who then had ample space to attack and disrupt an already disorganized Bayer Leverkusen’s defensive shape.
Sergi lured in 4 Bayer Leverkusen players as he attacked the seam in the midfield. As the 4 players rushed to close the ball, two of which did so with ineffective attempts at slide tackles, they left 3 Barcelona players behind them against 1 Bayer defender and 1 Barcelona player open out wide. Sergi cooly played the ball out wide to Jordi Alba and then drifted past the 4 players toward the center of the goal.
Jordi Alba, with ample time and Bayer scrambling, was easily able to pick out Munir El Haddadi for the first shot of the sequence. And with Sergi opportunistically continuing his run for a rebound, neither Bayer player who had hopelessly slid in front of him initially, were able to recover fast enough to put any pressure on the Barcelona player’s second effort, which tied the game up at one a piece.
Goal 3 – Luis Suarez (82’)
With a revitalized Camp Nou, Barcelona capitalized on the renewed energy in the stadium and put away the game winner barely two minutes later.
The third goal began when Munir El Hadaddi again made his presence felt by checking back to the ball in the space between the Bayer back four and midfield. This movement left enough space behind and wide of the Bayer left back for Dani Alves to sneak into.
Afterward, Munir and Dani Alves were able to combine again, taking advantage of the 2 v 1 situation they had created against the isolated left back of Bayer. Dani Alves played a diagonal ball, which Munir took a great angle to, not needing any additional touches to face up toward the goal and the nearest defender.
And with a combination of good fortune and skill, Munir held onto the ball through 4 Bayer players, naturally leaving ample space for Suarez to sit in about 12 yards out. And despite Bayer’s best efforts to close down his space, Luis Suarez hit a beautiful shot that Leno, the Bayer keeper, stood no chance at saving.
Written by Sam Polak
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