The problems for Roger Schmidt and Leverkusen continue to get worse. The eighth-placed Bundesliga side will need to overturn a two-goal deficit next Thursday to keep their Europa League ambitions alive.
Villarreal 2-0 Bayer Leverkusen
(Bakambu 3', 55')
Bayer Leverkusen's 200th European match wasn't one to celebrate as the Bundesliga club suffered a first leg defeat in the Europa League last 16 at Villarreal. Cedric Bakambu netted a double to hand the fourth-placed La Liga side the upper hand ahead of the return leg next week.
Bakambu's strike in the third minute was a combination of intelligent forward play by Villarreal and sloppy defending from Leverkusen. The quick center forward, capped by the Democratic Republic of Congo, found enough space behind the Leverkusen defense that had been looking to play the offside trap. The second was similarly potent, punishing the visitors with a rapid counterattack to give the Yellow Submarine a first leg advantage.
Roger Schmidt's side had managed just one win on the road this season in Europe - the 1-0 win at Sporting Club de Portugal in the last round. While the club still nurses a lengthy injury list, the sight of Javier Hernandez back in the side after suspension will be a boost. But the Mexican, with 14 goals in 20 league games this season, has carried Leverkusen throughout and needs extra support from his teammates.
Leverkusen, who had picked up one win from their previous five outings, looked flakey in defense without Omer Toprak. Roberto Soldado, the main striker for Villarreal, threatened in the first minute and couldn't finish with any of the three bites at the cherry. A minute later, the Leverkusen back-four were caught flat-footed as Bakambu charged through and finished past Bernd Leno.
Problems for Schmidt
With Denis Suarez and Samuel Castillejo on either wing, Villarreal had pace to burn on the break. On 28 minutes, Suarez's dangerous cross was hooked towards his own goal by Jonathan Tah, but the ball was inches wide of the target. Castillejo - the most fouled player in the tournament before kick-off - set up Soldado after 40 minutes, but the striker's near-post flick was blocked by Leno.
There was almost no response from Leverkusen. A toothless performance in their 11th European encounter of the season was made even worse when the Spaniards doubled their lead. Julian Brandt was brushed off the ball with ease and Bakambu took full advantage at the other end, firing the ball through the legs of Leno on 55 minutes.
Schmidt was forced into a reshuffle on 62 minutes when Christoph Kramer was knocked unconscious after being struck on the face with the ball. Kramer was replaced by academy graduate Marlon Frey, but by then, the home side was comfortably in control of proceedings. Tin Jedvaj was sent off in stoppage time after picking up two yellow cards and will be suspended for the second leg.
Now with a mountain to climb at home, Schmidt's coat is hanging on a shaky peg at Leverkusen. Sunday's home clash with Hamburg takes on extra significance for the club as they look to gain an edge over their competitors for a place in Europe next season.
Europa League Last 16 - First Leg results:
Borussia Dortmund 3-0 Tottenham Hotspur
Basel 0-0 Sevilla
Fenerbahce 1-0 Braga
Shakhtar Donestk 3-1 Anderlecht
Athletic Bilbao 1-0 Valencia
Liverpool 2-0 Manchester United
Sparta Prague 1-1 Lazio
Villarreal 2-0 Bayer Leverkusen