"We were full of energy at the restart but were perhaps a bit too relaxed after taking the lead. It felt like Monaco had three shots on goal and two went in. But it's not all over and we are keener than ever for the second leg," said Robert Andrich.
A new competition, a slightly changed formation: Head coach Xabi Alonso made two changes to his starting line-up compared with the 3-1 win at TSG Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga. Exequiel Palacios replaced Kerem Demirbay in defensive midfield and Nadiem Amiri came into the team in place of Daley Sinkgraven who is not in the Europa League squad. Patrik Schick was back in the matchday squad for the first time in three and a half months going back to the Champions League match against Club Brugge on 1 November. The centre-forward was on the bench as was Monaco's Kevin Volland who played for Bayer 04 from 2016 to 2020. Surprisingly, the Monaco captain Wissam Ben Yedder was not in the starting eleven either. The Werkself started the game with a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Bayer 04 had the first shot on goal against the in-form visitors who have won six games and drawn two in the first eight matches of the year. However, the shot from Moussa Diaby from distance did not present the AS keeper Alexander Nübel with any problems (6'). Soon after that, Monaco took the lead thanks to a blackout for Lukas Hradecky. From a back pass from Jonathan Tah, the Leverkusen keeper took too long and failed to see Breel Embolo at his back. The Switzerland international put Hradecky under pressure and the Finn ended up putting the ball in the back of his own net (9') – a bitter start for the hosts.
Bayer 04 looked to provide a prompt response but a Diaby effort from a tight angle to the near post was saved by Nübel with his foot (11'). After winning possession, Monaco were quick to play on the break as on 20 minutes when Aleksandr Golovin put Embolo through but his shot hit the side netting (20’). At the other end, Adam Hlozek cut in from the left and hit a shot from 20 yards out that Nübel comfortably saved (25’). Monaco were very compact and solid in defence, which made it difficult for Leverkusen to find gaps and space. When a pass from Diaby came through into the box, Amiri was unable to beat Nübel to the ball (35’). Initially there were half chances for the Black and Reds.
Monaco almost scored a second with a left-foot shot from Diatta but Hradecky made a brilliant save to turn a deflected effort over the bar (43'). The best chance for the Werkself came in added time at the end of the first half: Diaby broke down the right and crossed the ball but a shot from Palacios was blocked and Robert Andrich's follow-up effort flew wide of the target (45+2'). The half-time score was 1-0 to the visitors.
There were no changes for the Werkself at half-time. But it looked like a different Leverkusen side on the pitch as they piled on the pressure. And that was also quickly rewarded: Florian Wirtz did a great job moving the ball forwards and he played it out to the right to Jeremie Frimpong who found Moussa Diaby in the penalty area and the Frenchman skilfully beat two opponents before slotting the ball through Nübel's legs to make it 1-1 (48'). Bayer 04, now playing with a back three, played with determination and flair but then had to replace the goalscorer: Diaby went off injured and he was replaced by Amine Adli (56').
The Werkself continued to press. Nübel again saved with his feet to keep out Amiri from close range after he was set up by Andrich (58’). The BayArena crowd celebrated a minute later: Florian Wirtz beat four Monaco players before hitting a low shot into the far corner of the net (59'). A great goal witnessed by Germany coach Hansi Flick in the stands. Shortly after that, Adli put Hlozek through but his shot went just wide of the target (62'). Monaco reacted with Ben Yedder replacing Embolo. For Bayer 04, Odilon Kossounou came on for Amiri and the Werkself returned to playing with a back four (68’). But Monaco then struck out of the blue with the first attacking move in the half: Diatta had far too much space and he was able to hit an unstoppable shot into the net from the edge of the penalty area leaving Hradecky with no chance – 2-2 (74’).
It wasn't really on the cards as Bayer 04 were in control up to that point. The equaliser gave Monaco a boost and now it was a completely different story. Hradecky pulled off an excellent save to turn the ball round the post with his foot from a Ben Yedder shot (86'). At the other end, Hlozek hit the inside of the post (87’). Then Patrik Schick made his return as he replaced Hlozek and Callum Hudson-Odoi came on for the exhausted Frimpong (88.). But it was Monaco who came out on top in added time: Disasi hit a shot from 25 yards out to give his team a 3-2 lead. Bayer 04 tried everything but a shot from Hudson-Odoi was blocked by a defender (90+7’).
Bayer 04 return to Bundesliga action at home to Mainz 05 on matchday 21. The game at the BayArena on Sunday 19 February kicks off at 19.30 CET. The second leg of the play-off tie against AS Monaco at the Stade Louis II is four days later on Thursday 23 February with the kick-off at 18.45 CET.
Bayer 04: Hradecky – Frimpong (Hudson-Odoi 88’), Tah, Tapsoba, Hincapie – Andrich, Palacios – Amiri (Kossounou 68’), Wirtz, Diaby (Adli 56’) – Hlozek (Schick 88’)
AS Monaco: Nübel – Aguilar (Matsima 80’), Disasi, Maripan, Caio Henrique – Fofana, Camara (Matazo 71’) – Diatta, Minamino (Ben Seghir 46’), Golovin (Jacobs 71’) – Embolo (Ben Yedder 62’)
Goals: 0-1 Hradecky o.g. (9’), 1-1 Diaby (48’), 2-1 Wirtz (59’), 2-2 Diatta (74’), 2-3 Disasi (90+2’)
Booked: Tapsoba, Wirtz, Adli – Camara, Maripan, Diatta
Referee: Orel Grinfeld (Israel)
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