“We’ll rotate in more than one position,” Peter Bosz announced ahead of the game. And the Werkself head coach certainly shuffled his pack as he sought to balance out the workload for his squad. He made seven changes to the side that started last Monday’s Bundesliga game against FC Augsburg. Lars Bender (neck) and Exequiel Palacios (illness) were not in the squad and Bosz relegated Sven Bender, Edmond Tapsoba, Daley Sinkgraven, Nadiem Amiri and Leon Bailey to the subs’ bench. Aleksandar Dragovic, Tin Jedvaj, Jonathan Tah, Wendell, Kerem Demirbay, Florian Wirtz and Karim Bellarabi came into the starting line-up. Bayer 04 began the game with a completely new back four and it was the first competitive time on the pitch for Jedvaj this season. Paulinho, Santiago Arias, Charles Aránguiz and Patrik Schick were all sidelined. Julian Baumgartlinger led out Bayer 04 as captain at the Eden Arena.
Just two minutes had been played and the ball could have been in the back of the Czech Republic champions’ net. Slavia’s keeper Ondrej Kolar played the ball straight to the feet of Bellarabi but the Werkself winger missed the opposition’s open net from a not particularly favourable angle. Slavia Prague started cautiously, sat back and handed over the initiative to Bayer 04. Leverkusen patiently moved the ball around and looked to find gaps in the compact opposition defence. That resulted in a high percentage of possession and plenty of dominance but efforts to get behind Slavia’s compact back line initially brought little success.
Then referee William Collum exerted a strong influence on events: The Scottish match official showed Bellarabi a red card for his sliding tackle on Lukas Provod (22’) – a highly questionable decision after a not unusual foul. But even with a player less and changed structure, the visitors remained confident on the ball and continued to control the game. Lukas Hradecky had no problems saving a header from Provod (31’). A Kerem Demirbay free kick made Kolar really stretch to turn a ball round the post for a corner that probably would have just missed the target (40’). Shortly after that, it was great the way Moussa Diaby cut out a promising counter-attack from Slavia with an energetic sprint (41’). The two sides went into half-time with the scores level at 0-0.
After half-time, Leon Bailey replaced Lucas Alario with Florian Wirtz moving up into the centre of attacking midfield. Slavia appeared somewhat braver, were quick to challenge and David Zima had a shot that tested Hradecky as the ball rebounded off him (47’). At the other end, Bailey hit a powerful shot from outside the box but his effort was blocked by a leg (55’). Slavia made two attacking changes bringing on Nicolae Stanciu and Olayinka (61’). Hradecky was then the centre of attention: First, the keeper mistimed a challenge on Olayinka and conceded a penalty that was taken by Stanciu but the Finn was able to save the spot kick and the rebound in an impressive manner (64’). Bosz then brought on Amiri in place of Wirtz (66’).
Slavia now looked to be on top with Bayer 04 needlessly giving away possession in build-up play. A shot on the turn from Ibrahim Traoré was kept out at the near post by Hradecky (77’) as was the following effort from Stanciu (79’). The resulting corner saw Olayinka beat Dragovic in an aerial challenge to head the ball past the helpless Finn – 1-0 to Slavia (80’). A solo run by Diaby ended with the Frenchman hitting a shot just past the far post (85’).
With a man down, Bayer 04 upped the tempo – and had a great chance to equalise: An excellent pass from Demirbay was controlled by Amiri but his shot went just wide of the target (89’). There was five minutes of added time. The last goalscoring opportunity again fell to Amiri with a free-kick that flew over the bar (90+5’) – then it was full-time.
The situation in Group C is very exciting after the 1-0 win for Nice against Hapoel Be’er Sheva: All four teams have three points after the second matchday. The Werkself are still top due to a superior goal difference.
Bayer 04 return to league action on Bundesliga matchday six with a game at SC Freiburg on Sunday 1 November at 15.30 CET. The next challenge in the Europa League is on Thursday 5 November with the away game in Israel at Hapoel Be’er Sheva (18.55 CET).
Slavia Prague: Kolar – Masopust, Kudela, Zima, Boril – Sevcik, Holes (Stanciu 61’) – Malinsky (Sima 71’), Provod (Traoré 76’), Dorley (Olayinka 61’) – Lingr (Musa 46’)
Bayer 04: Hradecky – Jedvaj, Tah, Dragovic, Wendell – Wirtz (Amiri 66’), Baumgartlinger, Demirbay – Bellarabi, Alario (Bailey 46’), Diaby
Goals: 1-0 Olayinka (80’)
Referee: William Collum (Scotland)
Booked: Provod, Olayinka, Musa, Sevcik, Kolar
Sent off: Bellarabi (22’)
Notable events: Hradecky saves Stanciu penalty (64’)
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