"I think we gave everything we could and were courageous," said central defender Jonathan Tah after the game. "Particularly towards the end, Juventus were more relaxed, more clinical and more decisive. They exploited every mistake and all the space that we gave them."
Nevertheless: Playing away in the premier club competition in European football against one of the best football teams worldwide including a five-time World Player of the Year – days like these were fought for by the team last season and Werkself supporters over the whole summer could hardly wait for days like these. Classic Champions League!
Coach Peter Bosz made three changes to the side that beat Augsburg at the weekend, bringing in Jonathan Tah, Wendell and Kerem Demirbay in place of Aleksander Dragovic, Daley Sinkgraven and Nadiem Amiri. Lars Bender was due to lead the Werkself onto the pitch as captain but had to drop out late on due to a thigh problem. As at Augsburg, Mitchell Weiser started in his place. For Juventus, superstar Cristiano Ronaldo plus new signing Matthjis de Ligt plus the Germany international with 77 caps Sami Khedira were on from the start.
The star-studded team of the Old Lady were taken aback with the first chance of the game falling to Bayer 04. After a courageous break forward by Weiser, Lucas Alario hit his shot too high (3') and a long-range effort from Demirbay flew over the Juventus bar (8'). The Werkself with a more adventurous side in the opening stages and the vocal support from the stands came from the travelling fans in the away block.
However, as is often the case with teams like Juventus, the favourites were clinical with their first goalscoring opportunity: Tah sliced a clearance from a long ball only to feed Higuain. Lukas Hradecky was unable to keep out the low drive from the Argentinian and Juventus took the lead (17').
Incredibly unlucky for the Werkself who continue to have more of the game. After an excellent ball from Kai Havertz, the Juve captain Leonardo Bonucci took the ball away from Alario from a whipped-in cross from Kevin Volland (26'). At this point, there was no obvious difference in class, quite the contrary: Bayer 04 were the livelier and dominant team in the first half. Leverkusen had over 60% possession – away to the Italian serial champions! What was missing were clear-cut chances on goal. Higuain had one for Juventus but this time the striker was unable to beat Hradecky as the Bayer 04 number one produced a flying save (39').
Peter Bosz made changes in midfield at the break: Demirbay was replaced by Amiri. And he was involved in the first chance of the second half: Corner from Amiri landed at the feet of Charles Aránguiz but his mishit volley went wide of the target (48').
Where was Cristiano Ronaldo? Bayer 04 kept the Portugal international out of the game for the full first 45 minutes and the extra class of the five-time World Player of the Year was absent. Only in the second half did CR7 have more space as the Werkself pushed forward. Hradecky pulled off an impressive save to keep out a clip shot from now though from the edge of the box (57'). Shortly after that, the Finn in the Leverkusen goal was beaten for a second time: An excellent move by the Old Lady down the left saw Higuain cross into the middle where Ronaldo failed to score but Bernardeschi made no mistake to make it 2-0 for Juventus (62').
Any Bayer 04 supporter must have thought back to the first half: The Werkself also made a good start to the second 45 and produced some good moves but the Black and Reds were unable to penetrate the clever defence of the North Italian side - and Juve continue to show their class going forwards. With the benefit of the 2-0 lead, the hosts were able to move the ball more easily. Miralem Pjanic hit the post from a corner (67'), Ronaldo was kept out at the end of a counter-attack by an outstanding save from Hradecky (74').
By this time, Paulinho had replaced Alario – and the Brazilian could have made the encounter really exciting in his first Champions League game. A long ball from Weiser was met by the substitute who lobbed the ball over the advancing Wojciech Szczesny but it also went just over the bar (78'). Bayer 04 continue to fight to get back into the game but Tah missed a chance to score from an Amiri corner with a header (82'). So the final act of the game was saved for the biggest name on the pitch: Ronaldo received a pass from substitute Paulo Dybala and was able to nutmeg Hradecky to make it 3-0 (88').
"We'll try to look forwards and take the positives from the game," said Tah immediately after the final whistle. The Werkself face another tough opponent at the weekend: RB Leipzig, currently second in the Bundesliga, visit the BayArena on Saturday afternoon (15.30 CET).
Juventus: Szczesny - Cuadrado, Bonucci, de Ligt, Alex Sandro - Khedira (Betancur 73’), Pjanic, Matuidi - Bernardeschi (Ramsey 77’), Higuain (Dybala 83’), Cristiano Ronaldo
Bayer 04: Hradecky – Tah, S. Bender, Wendell – Baumgartlinger, Aránguiz (Sinkgraven 80’) – Weiser, Havertz, Demirbay (Amiri 46’), Volland – Alario (Paulinho 68’)
Goals: 1-0 Higuain (17’), 2-0 Bernardeschi (62’), 3-0 Cristiano Ronaldo (88’)
Referee: William Collum (Scotland)
Booked: Cuadrado - Aránguiz
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