Bayer Leverkusen vs Roma
[Champions League, 21/10/2015]
All stories, of which a match report is most certainly one, must begin with a beginning; however some require a prologue. In an attempt to commit myself to watching more football – in particular more central defenders in depth – I had the idea of doing a weekend’s round-up of Premier League centre-back analysis. As you can gauge from the title, this clearly is not that, which was an overly ambitious idea, and almost as megalomaniacal as UEFA charging Manchester City with booing their anthem. Instead, I am trialling a cross between a centre-back watch and a match report, combining two slow deaths – those of defending and match reports – and attempting to splice them together, Frankenstein-esque, in a bid to revive them. Hopefully, my monster will not proceed to murder my family and blackmail me, as the ‘real’ Frankenstein’s monster did. With that low bar firmly in place before me, I am fairly confident I can achieve some kind of success.
Roma versus Bayer Leverkusen is a match that, until recently, would not strike the traditional, half-formed English footballing brain as an evenly matched, or even potentially fun, affair. Roma, the home of one of the greatest Empires the world has ever seen (or at least one of the only ones the English can name), against Leverkusen, a team named after a pharmaceutical company.
The two sides’ centre-backs were unchanged throughout the match, with Tah and Papadopoulos playing for Leverkusen and Manolas and Rüdiger featuring for Roma.
The game started quickly, the first goal coming for Leverkusen from a penalty within 3 minutes. Neither Roma centre-back was involved, the offence being a handball from Roma right-back Torosidis (a cross played behind him, his trailing arm, suspiciously stiff, blocking it).
A communication error and instance of general bad play from the Leverkusen CBs in the 16th minute – allowing a ball over the top to bounce and a miscontrol from Tah – hinted at defensive frailties which would later be exposed, but it was Roma who conceded next.
Late in the 18th minute, Rüdiger made a passable attempt at a sitcom character, playing Chicharito clearly onside (his left-back doing so also) as a through ball cut out his partner Manolas. Knowing he had done wrong, Rüdy then supressed his instinct to run back and help, hoping that refusing to do anything would make his offside claim seem more legitimate. Embarrassingly for him, Chicharito’s first shot was saved and if Rüdiger had tried to atone for his error he might have prevented a goal, but he didn’t, and Chicha scored the rebound. Elsewhere in the match, the German defender found himself in further curious postions, finding himself in a left-wing position in the Leverkusen half later on after essentially tackling his way up the pitch, checkers-style.
Roma’s first goal, making it 2-1, came from a corner in the 29th minute. Far more notable, interesting, and relevant to centre-backs was Papadopoulos’ overhead kick clearance four minutes later, spectacularly cutting out a Roma cross from the left, possibly preventing an equaliser. Someone should have vined it by now; if not, shame on them.
A minute later, the same man possibly should have given away a penalty, clipping Gervinho’s heels as the striker entered the box latching onto a long ball.
Roma’s equaliser came soon after, their captain De Rossi scoring his second from a set piece, this time from a free-kick on the outer left corner of the Leverkusen box (left from the Bayer point of view). Both Leverkusen defenders lost their men, De Rossi running in behind Papadopoulos, though he was actually the captain’s man. The Germans, it seems, not overly great defending set pieces.
Though not a goal or an action involving a centre-back, a fantastic shoulder barge from the Bayer right-back, Tonati, deserves a mention, protecting his goalkeeper from being closed down by knocking the Roma striker to the ground in the 41st minute.
In a piece of foreshadowing that befits a link between sport and scripting, Tah was turned in the 53rd minute by Gervinho and outpaced as the Ivorian raced towards goal, Papadopoulos coming over to help but not getting there before the Roma forward had his shot saved.
Roma’s 3rd came from a central direct free-kick about 25 yards out several seconds later, Pjanic scoring, though the foul that led to it was a dive.
On the hour, Rüdiger, still having a game speckled by shaky moments (though by no means the only one), nudged Chicharito strongly in the back, knocking the little Mexican pea over. Had this occurred anywhere other than just inside the box, going away from goal, it probably would have been given as a foul. It’s possible that Roma’s left side of midfield was weaker defensively, thus making Rüdiger look worse than he was, though he did generally look the shakiest centre-back of the four playing.
Though generally the central defensive play was good (or at least, average in terms of not being bad), Papadopoulos had a heart-in-mouth moment in the 71st minute, inexplicably and comically slipping as he was chasing down a Roma end-to-end break which, fortunately for him, didn’t result in anything important. Perhaps the sitcom can be called Papa and Rüdy. I’ll pitch it in America, they give anything a 26 episode series over there.
Just a couple of minutes later, the aforementioned foreshadowing reared its spiritual head, as Gervinho again troubled Tah for pace on a quick break, cutting inside onto his right on the left hand side of the box (from his perspective). Papadopoulos came across to prevent the shot, as Tah was not quite close enough to do that, but in doing so left Falque completely unmarked a few yards away. The Roma player promptly received the pass from Gervinho and scored, putting his team 4-2 ahead.
Leverkusen’s third was a fantastic shot on the right edge corner (from the Bayer point of view) by Kampl, curling into the top left hand corner of Szczesny’s goal. Szczesny, tangentially, spent the whole of the match looking like a bit of a loser, his yellow goalie kit disgracefully unstylish compared with the Roma outfield players’ shirts.
Just prior to the subsequent kick-off, Roma captain De Rossi received some instructions from the bench on a piece of paper as Dzeko entered the match, on for Gervinho. The stoic Roman read them, digested them, then folded up the scrap and threw it away, information absorbed, as the play began again. Within 60 seconds, Leverkusen had equalised.
The German team quickly won possession from the Roma kick-off, getting the ball deep in the left-hand side of the Italian box (left side from the Bayer perspective), a cross cut across the six yard box for Mehmedi to tap in at the back post, essentially unmarked.
De Rossi dropped down, the Empire and its captain brought to their knees by the medicine men.
No centre-back really had a great game, with much of the action (apart from the goals, many of which weren’t their fault) taking place in midfield or in long, overhit balls over the top.