Xabi Alonso rightfully trusted his strongest team tonight.
The decision made easy for the Spaniard given the Belgian outfit dumped Union Berlin out in the last round. The sole change made from last weekend’s win over Frankfurt being Bakker who replaced Kossounou.
On the stroke of the half hour, the strong running Boniface forced Hradecký into making a vital save. The subsequent corner was diverted goalwards, but ‘Die Werkself’ defenders sighed in collective relief when the ball bounced off the crossbar into Hradecký’s grasp. While Hincapié spurned a delightful Frimpong cross, and Diaby dragged a late shot wide, ultimately it was a fair reflection of two evenly matched outfits at the break.
Leverkusen would find themselves 1-0 down inside six second-half minutes. An untimely slip from Andrich afforded Teuma valuable space. The Saint-Galloise skipper fed Boniface who opened his body and curled the ball around Tapsoba into the bottom right corner. A sixth goal in 9 Europa League games for the red-hot Nigerian striker.
Alonso opted to replace Adli with Azmoun as the 70th minute approached. Saint-Gilloise more than content to prioritise game management at that stage. Leverkusen’s inaccuracies up front were beginning to hurt them dearly. Frimpong ought to have hit the net when he was left unmarked for a Bakker delivery. Alas, Alonso’s men would eventually pull it back to 1-1. Azmoun set up Wirtz, whose snapshot from range whistled past Anthony Moris’ fingertips.
All things considered a fair result given how evenly matched the pair were – second-leg all to play for in Brussels next Thursday.