Thursday Apr 26, 2018  
  27/08/2015: Report: Leverkusen 3-0 Lazio
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Lazio have failed in their quest to make it to the UEFA Champions League, as Bayer Leverkusen overturned a one-goal deficit and emerged 3-1 winners on aggregate in a tense, but exciting game at the BayArena.

It was comfortable in the end for the Germans, but for the first 40 minutes, Lazio were very much in control. Bayer Leverkusen had all of the possession and Lazio were posing little to no threat at the opposite end, but if games were won with possession, Lazio would have finished mid-table last season. Point is, Lazio are a team that can get results without having the ball and for the first 40 minutes, you could see Lazio holding out for the 0-0 that would be just good enough. It was by no means pretty, but it was effective.

Leverkusen had two real weapons in their team that Lazio could do nothing about. Weapon number one - Karim Bellarabi. He had too much pace for our defensive line, running at them as if power-ups had been introduced into the latest edition of FIFA and the guy controlling Leverkusen had a boost available for the entire game. It was extreme to the point that Bellarabi took the ball off a goal kick and literally ran untroubled to our goal. Not much you can do about that.

Weapon number two - Hakan Calhanoglu. His deliveries into the penalty area were equally reminiscent of something you'd see on a game console. Both Bellarabi and Calhanoglu wreaked havoc but for 40 minutes, we had the Germans in a position where those two players needed to wreak havoc to get a result. They looked inspired when they had those two on the ball, less so when they did not.

Leverkusen had their weapons, but we had ours too. Keita Balde Diao had the beating of a young Jonathan Tah. They call Tah the 'tank' for his physical prowess, but Keita made him tank over both legs outmuscling him on a regular basis. Felipe Anderson could have been the other weapon for us, but unfortunately, the Brazilian needs a wake-up call. While we're on the topic of nicknames, perhaps the 'bear' is appropriate for Felipe Anderson; harsh though it may be, he seems to go into hibernation from August to December. Seems we rested him against Bologna and he's gone for an indefinite nap.

If this report seems different to the average Serie A game report on, then it's because European football is a different game entirely to Serie A. If you watched Serie A at the weekend, you'd have seen Juventus dominate Udinese for 90 minutes only to be undone by Cyril Thereau, and it may have reminded you of our game against Udinese at the Olimpico last season when, uhm, Lazio dominated for 90 minutes and were undone by Cyril Thereau. Any Lazio - Genoa game of the last few years is an equally valid comparison.

You throw Udinese into a game against Barcelona in the Champions League, and Cyril Thereau might get on the scoresheet even if Udinese have had only 8% of possession, but he'll probably be turning to his teammates and saying 'hey guys, I scored, but you seem to have conceded eight at some point'. European games have a verve, an intensity about them that makes it difficult to nigh on impossible to hold on for 90 minutes. Antonio Candreva brought this up in the pre-match press conference and Stefano Pioli was undoubtedly aware of the difference - he has been here before with Palermo, albeit in a Europa League play-off, and he found out the hard way as his team was not only eliminated, but he was removed from his duties as manager.

I have no doubt Pioli's preference for fielding Mauricio and Onazi against Leverkusen had much to do with the differences that lie between the two competitions. In the first leg, their selection paid off as we were able to match Leverkusen in the intensity stakes. Last night, we were no match and when Marco Parolo says Lazio lacked the determination of the first leg, I suspect he identified the inability to match Leverkusen for intensity over 180 minutes.

Maurcio and Onazi justified their selection in the first half. Onazi was frequently preventing Dusan Basta from being embarrassed and Lazio's best move of the opening 45 came when Onazi made an incredible interception and played an exquisite ball forward with the outside of his foot. As for Mauricio, he was bullying Stefan Kiessling to the extent where you could have forgiven the Leverkusen medical team for putting the local hospital on standby. Maurcio and Onazi - they were bringing the intensity that the manager almost certainly wanted them to bring.

The rest of the team were not able to bring that fire, however, so we were second best in the key areas regardless, and that magnified the need to be disciplined. Unfortunately, that's where the tie was won and lost. As the first half drew to a close, Stefan de Vrij inexplicably failed to clear the ball from his box and was unaware of what was around him as he waited for Etrit Berisha to come and collect. That one second of madness allowed Leverkusen to initiate a game of pinball which ended with Calhanoglu tucking home to even the tie.

I can go into great depths about the second half performance, but there is no need. With the game poised for extra-time at half-time, Stefano Pioli had 15 minutes to change gameplan while Leverkusen looked forward to another 45 minutes of continuing with something they've had in place for days if not weeks.

Mauricio was at fault for the second goal and saw red shortly after, but the killer blow had already been dealt. There is no doubt Leverkusen took their foot off the gas once they had the aggregate lead and the opportunity was there to punish their arrogance, but heads were down. The team had had enough - the belief was gone.

Stefano Pioli said after the game that Lazio simply are not at Champions League level yet and he's correct in saying that. We've heard an awful lot about this new Lazio, our attack-minded philosophy and the winning mentality we have forged by playing to win but the truth is, Leverkusen have been doing the same thing over the same period of time and are doing it better than us.

This is a lesson learned, but it's a lesson some Italian team is having to learn every year. If Lazio want to succeed on the continent, then they have to be bold enough to carry the same mentality into every game. Change system or formation, sure, but keep the mentality. Yes, Leverkusen showed they had the physical qualities to succeed in this tie but ultimately, Lazio lost the mental battle. Forza Lazio!

Player Ratings: Berisha (5.5); Mauricio (5.0), de Vrij (5.0), Radu (5.5); Basta (5.5), Onazi (6.5), Parolo (5.5), Lulic (6.0); Candreva (5.5), Keita Balde Diao (6.5), Felipe Anderson (5.0). Kishna (5.5), Gentiletti (6.0), Morrison (n/a).

Author: Cathal Mullan
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