Leon Bailey’s Bayer Leverkusen eased into the Europa League quarter-finals following tonight’s 1-0 success over Rangers at the BayArena to triumph 4-1 on aggregate.
A second-half strikes from Moussa Diaby delivered the knock-out blow to last season’s Scottish Premiership runners-up, which sets up a mouth-watering clash against Italian heavyweights Inter Milan on 10 August.
But Jamaica’s whizzy winger Bailey, who scored a sensational last-gasp goal in the first leg 3-1 against Rangers in March, started on the bench. The Kingston-born 22-year-old has not seen eye-to-eye with head coach Peter Bosz, which he has made public, but made a 68th-minute appearance in place of the dynamic Diaby as part of a triple tactical substitution.
Following a tame opening half, with Rangers’ frontline blunted, it was the hosts who came out after the interval with all guns blazing. Charles Aranguiz’s throughball picked out classy French ace Diaby to send it past keeper Allan McGregor and into the back of the net on 51 minutes.
Rangers rallied late, Edmond Tapsoba clearing Connor Goldson header from a corner off the line on 73 minutes with shotstopper Lukas Hradecky hilariously caught in no man’s lane.
If Leverkusen can win this competition then they will qualify for next season’s Champions League, a tournament that ambitious Bailey is biting at the bit to finally play in. On the final day of the season the club missed out on fourth spot in the German Bundesliga, which would have secured a lucrative Champions League slot, because they had a stuttering finale to collect just seven points from their final five league matches.
And Leverkusen, who tasted defeat in their previous competitive game – their 4-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the German Cup final on 4 July – shuffled their pack to tackle Rangers. All of the players that featured in Bosz’s matchday squad in the first leg at Ibrox remain with the club that included scorers Kai Havertz, Chilean international Aranguiz and Bailey. But suspensions meant that Kerem Demirbay and Mitchell Weiser were absent from their line-up.
Bosz made four changes from the side that were overwhelmed by Bayern Munich, with Austria midfielder Julien Baumgartlinger and Brazilian defender Wendell joining Bailey as a substitute. German midfielder Nadiem Amiri was forced to miss out, having coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. Their replacements were the German duo striker Kevin Volland and 17-year-old midfielder Florian Wirtz alongside Argentina midfielder Exequiel Palacios and Dutch defender Daley Sinkgraven.
In the first leg German wonderkid Havertz opened the scoring with a penalty, midfielder Aranguiz doubled their lead, before George Edmundson pulled a goal back for the Glasgow giants and Bailey’s 88th-minute strike left Rangers with little option but to go on the offensive in the return leg.
Rangers were tame in front of goal in the second leg despite fielding Colombia international Alfredo Morelos, who was looking to add to his eight-goal Europa League tally since the group stages kicked off. Maybe he was distracted with an imminent move to French side Lille. Rangers only contributed a string of tentative efforts and never seemed in with a shot of causing an upset.
With veteran forward Jermain Defoe out injured, Rangers boss Steven Gerrard had been swift to sign strikers and on 4 August swooped for two new forwards in the shape of Swiss international Cedric Itten and Englishman Kemar Roofe, who is eligible to play for Jamaica due to his father’s heritage. However, their signatures were too late to compete in the Europa League.
After Diaby broke the deadlock it seemed a question of time before 21-year-old Havertz would make the scoresheet, constantly proving to be a menace but thwarted by quick-thinking McGregor. Bailey was given the nod with 20 minutes remaining, most likely to spice up the attack to help Havertz slot home. And the German international almost squeezed home a goal in the penultimate minute, but from a tricky angle sent his effort into the side netting.
Havertz has completely overshadowed Bailey all season, with the flailing Jamaican’s transfer tag having plummeted from U$100m to around U$27m because of indifferent form over the past 20 months. Scouts from top clubs in England and Spain have been monitoring Havertz all season, with Chelsea favoured to pounce to sign the talented playmaker. However, a few years ago it was Bailey, a rising star at the time, who turned down the opportunity to join Chelsea and since then his form has dramatically dipped.
If Leverkusen can capture the Europa League, to earn a Champions League berth, then Bosz won’t be forced to sell his star player Havertz. If Havertz does leave for pastures new then attacking midfielder Bailey has a chance to take over the mantle from his team-mate’s departure, but then his goal will be to patch matters up with Bosz or he could be playing a bit part next term.
Remember to share this article on Facebook and other Social Media Platforms. To submit your own articles or to advertise with us please send us an EMAIL at: [email protected]