Employing an aggressive, borderline rough, style of play, Bayer Leverkusen managed to topple the favored Atletico Madrid for a 1-0 victory in the first leg of their Champions League Round of 16 match Wednesday at BayArena.
Powered by midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu’s strike in the 56th minute, Roger Schmidt’s side now holds a distinct advantage over Madrid as the matchup turns to the second leg in Spain on March 17.
Likely frustrated by Leverkusen’s tactics, Madrid midfielder Tiago picked up his second booking of the day in 76th minute and was sent off, leaving his 10 teammates to fend off the jubilant German side for the duration. The Portuguese star with four domestic goals this season will be forced to sit out the second leg after let his emotions get the best of him.
It took Calhanoglu’s heroic play to break the scoreless tie with his second goal of the tournament. In the 56th, Leverkusen managed to sustain possession well inside Madrid’s area and broke through with a back-heel pass from midfielder Karim Bellarabi to Calhanoglu for a blistering right-footed shot that rifled past keeper Miguel Moya.
Bellarabi’s deft pass caught Madrid’s backline off guard, and Moya had little time to react before the shot whizzed by his outstretched hands and head to the high-center porttion of the goal.
It was the first goal Moya has given up in Champions League this season, and first overall since Jan. 31 when Madrid bested Eibar 3-1 in La Liga.
Leverkusen dealt with a difficult losing stretch in Bundesliga, winning just once in their last six matches, but they’re spirits and energy were high for the full 90 minutes against Madrid.
During first-half stretches, it was highly competitive and a bit brutal, with both Tiago and Leverkusen’s Kyriakos Papadopoulos each booked for bad fouls. Leverkusen defender Wendell and midfielder Lars Bender were also booked in the second half, as was Madrid’s Diego Godin.
And Leverkusen would commit 14 of their 21 total fouls in the first 45 minutes alone in an attempt to slow down Rojiblancos speedy attack.
Both sides still managed to squeeze off a fair number of shots the first half, eight for Leverkusen and nine for Madrid, but each found their target only once. Leverkusen would pick up their pace a bit and notch three more shots on goal to Madrid's one.
Leverkusen also won the possession battle 62-38, disallowing any chance of Madrid securing an away goal and the tie-breaker should it come into play in the second leg.