The final is very close, the treble is within reach: German champions Bayer Leverkusen have taken their first successful revenge on AS Roma and laid the foundation for a place in the final of the Europa League. The national players Florian Wirtz (28th) and Robert Andrich (73rd) scored the goals in the 2-0 (1-0) in the Eternal City and ensured a brilliant starting position for the second leg on May 9th in Leverkusen. Opponents in the final on May 22nd in Dublin would be Atalanta Bergamo or Olympique Marseille.

Coach Xabi Alonso’s team remained unbeaten in their 47th competitive game of the season, with a maximum of six games still remaining in the three competitions. Last year, Bayer, who played in the DFB Cup final against second division team 1. FC Kaiserslautern, failed in the semifinals against Roma, then coached by José Mourinho, without scoring their own goal. The dissatisfaction with the opponent’s destructive game caused a lot of discontent among the Leverkusen team.

Alonso and the new AS coach Daniele De Rossi, who has been in charge since January, warmly greeted each other before kick-off, and the Leverkusen master coach once again started the game with a tactical surprise. Without a trained striker, the Werkself tried to lure the hosts, which was only moderately successful in the somewhat tough opening phase. Wirtz acted as a so-called hanging striker, and Amine Adli missed the shot on her first approach to the penalty area (8th).

Leverkusen’s biggest and ultimately well-solved task on this warm summer evening in Rome was to keep the massive Romelu Lukaku under control. The 1.91 meter tall Belgian at the top was repeatedly sought by his teammates with long balls; in the 21st minute he hit the crossbar with his head following a corner.

The great opportunity arose in a phase in which Leverkusen was exposed to constant pressure – but was able to free itself again and again with pinprick counterattacks in the style of a master. Jeremie Frimpong initially only hit the side netting (23′), Wirtz then converted Alejandro Grimaldo’s careful preparatory work to take the lead after a serious mistake by Dutchman Rick Karsdorp. Wirtz celebrated his tenth goal in the last 13 competitive games.

As usual, Alonso delegated his team energetically on the sidelines. Wirtz tried again shortly after his goal, but this time he was denied by goalkeeper Mile Svilar (31′), who subsequently had to intervene several times. Leverkusen was already more successful in front of goal against the traditional Italian club than last season. The 2,500 Bayer fans who traveled with us – 3,100 could have gotten tickets – were able to feel very entertained.

Leverkusen remained confident and attentive well into the second half. Roma only hinted at their offensive power for long stretches; in the Stadio Olimpico it was pretty quiet in the Roman fans’ stands after just over an hour. Shortly before the start of the final phase, Andrich scored a remarkable goal from a distance under the crossbar and decided the game. A year ago, the goalscorer seriously injured his foot in Rome and was out for months.