Villarreal 2-0 Leverkusen
Cédric Bakambu struck a goal at the start of each half to earn Villarreal a fifth win out of five at home in the competition this term.
Article top media content
- Cédric Bakambu ends a run of 11 matches without a goal with double
- Villarreal have won all five of their European home games this season without conceding
- The Spanish side keep eighth clean sheet in ten outings in all competitions
- Leverkusen's 200th fixture in UEFA club competition produces a 67th loss
- The second leg is next Thursday, with the quarter-final draw the following day
Centre-forward Cédric Bakambu ended a run of 11 games without a goal with one in each half to leave Villarreal with one foot in the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals.
The Spanish side have struggled in front of goal of late, failing to score as freely over the past 12 matches. In that context, Bakambu's fourth-minute strike was a dream start to this round of 16 tie and an expertly taken second at the beginning of the second half leaves Leverkusen with it all to do in Germany next week.
Roberto Soldado had already spurned one early chance when Bakambu made the breakthrough after collecting his strike partner's improvised hook over a high defensive line. It was two months since his last goal, but his composed finish belied any lack of form.
Leverkusen laboured to gain even a foothold and were grateful to go in at half-time only 1-0 down, indebted to Bernd Leno's brilliant reaction save from Soldado's nonchalant flick. There was nothing the keeper could do 11 minutes after the restart, however, as Bakambu sprinted clear on the break before expertly firing between the keeper's legs.
Leverkusen's night went from bad to worse when Christoph Kramer was carried off after a blow to the head and Tin Jedvaj received a second booking in added time. They never looked like getting an away goal. Indeed, but for Leno's fine stop from Léo Baptistão late header, Villarreal would have been out of sight.
Bakambu rediscovers scoring touch
Bakambu had an excellent start to life in Spain, with 12 goals in his first 24 games ensuring he picked up where he left off last season at Bursaspor. If his subsequent 11-match drought stalled that progress, his confidence appeared undimmed as he showed great composure for both goals. The second was almost a carbon copy of an opportunity he had wasted against Napoli in the last round. Can the 24-year-old Congolese international kick on?
Villarreal's strong foundations
For Marcelino's team, this was a fifth win out of five at home in the UEFA Europa League this term and a fifth clean sheet. Only Atlético Madrid have a better defensive record in Spain and it does not seem to matter who Marcelino selects – only Víctor Ruiz is ever-present at the back in this European campaign – the wall of yellow stands firm. Try as they might, Leverkusen could not pull them out of shape.