Only cardboard cut outs were at Borussia Park to witness a high quality Rhine derby between two of the Bundesliga’s high fliers. The 13,000 lifeless figures were treated to a match of high quality and intensity as Leverkusen leapfrogged their rivals into third with a 3-1 away win. Among the talented players to catch the eye were Kai Havertz, the exciting and versatile German linked with a move to Chelsea earlier this month, and Marcus Thuram, Mönchengladbach’s powerful forward and the son of World Cup winner Lilian.
The game got off to a flying start, with Leverkusen captain Kai Havertz putting his side ahead in the 7th minute. He used his phenomenal pace to latch onto a well weighted through ball from Bellarabi, before sticking the ball through Yann Sommer’s legs. Such composure is rare in a 20 year old, but Havertz isn’t your average youngster and throughout this game he proved what a bright future he has lying ahead of him. From the first whistle Leverkusen hogged the ball, keeping 65% of possession in the first half an hour, as Mönchengladbach sat back. It was clear that the visitors would be playing with a high defensive line and a compact midfield from the start, constantly playing neat little passes between the forwards as they looked for a way through Mönchengladbach’s stubborn defence. The rest of the first half was more or less one-way traffic, with the home side unable to get their key players, Thuram and Alassane Pléa, into the game. Havertz was once again at the centre of everything Leverkusen did, showing his strength to hold off a couple of defenders before slipping a ball through which led to a tame effort on goal. As half time approached, Lukas Hradecky spilt a routine long range effort from Florian Neuhaus and was spared his blushes as somehow neither Thuram or Pléa could pounce on the loose ball. On the stroke of half time the visitors somehow conspired to miss an easy two on one, with Diaby getting in Havertz’s way and delaying the forward’s shot, which hit the bar from a narrow angle. The rebound fell to Demirbay who’s goal bound effort was heroically blocked by Nico Elvedi. However, as the two sides left the pitch for the break, Mönchengladbach had played themselves back into the game after the early onslaught, and there was optimism that they could claw there way back from a goal down.
The second half was where this match up really came to life, as Thuram netted a precise half-volley from a beautifully dinked pass into the box from Pléa. It was Pléa’s first real contribution of note, as Mönchengladbach equalised in stunning fashion. Powerful winger Thuram then had the chance to put his side ahead less than a minute later, with a surging run into the opposition penalty area where he used his strong frame to held off a defender, only to be thwarted by the legs of keeper Hradecky. The home sides optimism was short lived as Elvedi was adjudged to have fouled Bellarabi after the Leverkusen man had fired wide, with the visitors awarded a penalty. A lengthy Video Assistant Referee review followed before Havertz kept his cool from the spot, sending his penalty to Sommer’s right. Although the keeper got a strong hand to the effort, it wasn’t enough to keep it out as Leverkusen recaptured the lead. As the game headed into the final ten minutes, Sven Bender sealed the three points for Leverkusen with a fantastic diving headed (although the ball may have glanced off his shoulder) from a Demirbay free kick. As the clock ticked down, the largely quiet Pléa had three opportunities to help his side back into the game. First came a free header which he placed wide from an excellent Wendt cross, followed by a nice run into the box and a near post blast which was very well saved by Hradecky. From the resulting corner he again had a free header but the delivery was slightly too high for him to get a good effort off on goal. Those three chances in two minutes were as good as it got for the home side, the game finished 3-1 to Bayer Leverkusen.
Once again it will be Havertz who steals the headlines. Germany’s brightest young talent came into this game fresh off a brace against Werder Bremen last weekend and managed to repeat the trick against much stronger opposition today. Once again occupying the false 9 role, Havertz seemed to be everywhere. As well as scoring twice, he dropped deep to help in the build up play, as he managed 45 passes at an 82% completion rate. These were not safe passes either, a series of flicks and lofted balls helped his side progress up the pitch, notably hitting a volleyed pass over the head of a defender to Diaby in acres of space in the first half. He clearly has what it takes to physically compete as a forward as well, winning 3 aerial duels as well as tracking back to make a couple of tackles. Nothing summed up his confidence better than when he won back possession in his own box following a Mönchengladbach corner and proceeded to nutmeg the player in front of him before lobbing a ball straight to Diaby on the halfway line. He was a constant menace to the home defence, constantly moving between the lines, either taking a single touch before making a purposeful pass or darting at an opposition player, as he looked to carry his team forwards. He managed couple of key passes today, really emphasising his creative touch. Havertz looks like one of the hottest talents in Europe right now, and with 8 Bundesliga goals in 2020 (only 2 fewer than Haaland, despite a lot of his game time being in midfield), it is easy to see why. I am convinced that he would be a brilliant signing for Chelsea, and with his age, leadership skills and versatility adding to his world class ability, he would fit right into Lampard’s side!
This game was initially billed as a duel between Havertz and Thuram, and after a quiet first half, the Frenchman played his part in the showdown. His equaliser was a sumptuous half volley beyond Lukas Hradecky, and if he had scored a second a minute later after a brilliant run in the 53rd minute of the game, there could have been a very different outcome. He, like Havertz, managed a couple of key passes, one of which was a superb back heel to Neuhaus which should have led to a goal. His hold up play and strong dribbling were on show throughout, as he made two outstanding dribbles and consistently offered himself as a target for long clearances from Sommer. The reported €12 million Mönchengladbach paid for his services last summer looks a bargain, and having attracted attention from all of Europe’s elite following his 8 goals and 8 assists in his debut season in Germany, it looks like the forward could move on to bigger and better things soon.
If you read my match report on Leverkusen’s previous game against a Bremen, you will know how highly I rate the 21 year old centre back Edmond Tapsoba. Having joined the club in January from the Liga Nos, he has taken no time to settle, and he continued his superb form today. Constantly shifting out to the right in order to track opposition danger man Thuram, it felt like a Tapsoba was always in the right place at the right time. His stunning 5 interceptions were often crucial, with Thuram otherwise set to go through on goal. One particular moment of brilliance came in the 70thminute as he tracked the Frenchman back before muscling him off the ball in a dangerous position. In the first half especially he kept his opponent quiet, with Thuram switching to the right flank after the break for a period of time. In fact Thuram netted his equaliser from the right, before moving back to the left flank and being pocketed by Tapsoba. It was not the young defender’s best day when it came to passing, his 65 completed passes not as impressive as his average of 102 league passes per game before today, but he still managed to complete a couple of nice long balls. However, it was clear that he had been given the specific task of shackling Thuram by manager Peter Bosz, and he completed this admirably. With Chelsea very vulnerable defensively this season, Tapsoba could be a bargain buy that fixes our defence.
At times you would be forgiven for forgetting that Moussa Diaby was on the pitch. The French winger completed only 25 passes in the whole game, and at times seemed frustrated by his lack of action, receiving an unnecessary yellow card for dissent in the second half. He did manage to make a key pass and complete a couple of long balls, but this was a quiet day for one of Europe’s hottest young talents. His 9 goal contributions from 13 league starts speak for itself, and as a left footed young winger, he could be very desirable to Lampard and the Chelsea board. Aside from a few clever runs, this was not his day, but the hype surrounding Diaby continues to grow.
The ball to set up Thuram’s equaliser was a thing of beauty, a wonderfully weighted ball that fell perfectly into the stride of the young Frenchman. It was his older compatriot who provided said ball, as Alassane Pléa made his first meaningful impact of the game. The 27 year old managed to complete a mere 13 passes all game as he, like Diaby, went under the radar. He could have finished the match with a couple of goals and an assist, however, with the free header from a few yards out his most glaring miss. His strong link up with Thuram was evident at times, the deadly duo have been the key to Mönchengladbach’s attack this season, but he didn’t have the look of a man who has better 9 times and assisted 8 in the league in 2019/20. Not in fitting with the age profile of Lampard’s squad, he is not a realistic transfer target, however he could make an interesting strike partner to Tammy Abraham if he did ever move to the Bridge, as he is usually both creative and clinical in equal measure.
With Chelsea linked with every left back under the sun this summer as the club look to address the glaring weakness in the squad, I kept an eye out for Ramy Bensebaini, the Algerian with five goals and an assist from left back in the league this season. Penned into his own half for much of the opening 45 minutes, he began to grow into the game after the break, driving his team towards goal. He attempted a surprising four shots, the most on his team, a dribble and a key pass as he bombed forwards whenever possible. Unlike Marcos Alonso, Chelsea’s left back come centre forward, Bensenbaini didn’t neglect his defensive duties, managing 4 tackles and interceptions in the game as he attempted to halt the sea of red shirts approaching his goal. He managed 48 passes as well, a lot of them with attacking intent as opposed to sideways and safe, the left back impressed and was probably his sides second best player after Thuram. The 25 year old is valued at just £8.55 million by transfermarkt and on today’s display he would be a very handy signing for Lampard’s side.
Kepa Arrizabalaga has come into plenty of criticism with a series of lacklustre performances this season, even being dropped for 39 year old backup keeper Willy Caballero in February. The Spaniard’s woeful 55% save rate is the worst in the Premier League and has led many to question if there are better options available. The 31 year old between the sticks for Mönchengladbach, Yann Sommer, has proved himself to be one of Europe’s best shot stoppers this term, with his phenomenal 80.2% save rate roughly the same as Alisson Becker. Valued at £8.1 million, the veteran could be excellent option to compete with or even start ahead of Kepa. Today the Swiss international performed reasonably well, impressing with his feet by completing 10 of 14 attempted long balls, as well as looking comfortable when closed down by opposition players. He managed to get a hand to Havertz’s penalty and arguably should have kept it out given its height, but there was little he could do for the first or third goal.
After a very entertaining game I hope I have brought to light a few potentially exciting signings for Chelsea this summer, with some outstanding talents on display today. With Chelsea back in training this week it is time to start getting excited about the Premier League’s return, so wherever you are keep safe and well and keep the blue flag flying high.
Written by Daniel New