FC Schalke 04 couldn’t quite complete the improbable comeback on Matchday 14 at the BayArea, but center back Ozan Kabak did everything he could to hold off the opposition.
Bayer Leverkusen were rampant for much of the first 45 minutes of their 2-1 Matchday 14 victory over FC Schalke 04, who didn’t quite look like a Champions League team in that opening stanza. But by the second half, Schalke settled down and nearly completed a comeback with a goal and a flurry of action in the final 10 minutes.
Honestly, Schalke were fortunate to still be in the game in the second half, such was the nature of Leverkusen’s impressive attack. Leon Bailey and Karim Bellarabi were destroying the fullbacks in one-on-one situations, Charles Aranguiz provided a passing masterclass, and even Kevin Volland came off the bench to give Schalke’s back four serious troubles.
Despite the loss and the dominance from Peter Bosz’s attack, one Schalke defender can say he had a strong showing on Saturday. And that man is none other than Ozan Kabak.
The 19-year-old Turkey international has been a revelation since starting on Nov. 3 against Augsburg, and he’s been a regular in the lineup with both Benjamin Stambouli and Salif Sane injured. Kabak has made a mainstream German publication’s Team of the Week in back-to-back weeks, and while he’ll be left off this week due to his team’s loss, he can still hold his head high.
He had three plays that illustrated his ability. First, Kabak kept up with the pace of Moussa Diaby, smartly bumping him off with his shoulder to prevent Diaby from charging forward at top speed. Kabak was then able to steer the ball out of bounds.
Kabak also had a beautiful last-ditch tackle on Nadiem Amiri near the six-yard box that prevented a sure-fire goal. A lesser defender would have conceded a penalty, but Kabak did his best Maldini impression, timing the slide perfectly to break up the play. Amiri certainly felt the tackle, but it was, as we say, “all ball”.
When Alexander Nubel had trouble securing a hard effort from a Leverkusen attacker, it was Kabak who pounced and cleared the ball away – much to the gratefulness of his overworked captain.
Per WhoScored.com, Kabak had three tackles, two interceptions, and seven clearances in the game, looking like a veteran keeping Schalke’s defense afloat against Leverkusen at the BayArea. It is incredible how advanced Kabak’s game is, and it’s even wilder to think that this was only his fifth start for Schalke.
Kabak has a combined 10 tackles and interceptions in his last two starts, meaning he’s hitting his peak powers at the heart of Schalke’s defense. The Royal Blues will face Eintracht Frankfurt and VFL Wolfsburg in two more tough tests of their Champions League candidacy, but with Kabak playing like a rock at the back, David Wagner can feel good about his team’s chances of bouncing back from a tough loss to Bayer.