The champions stand on the precipice, and defeat against die Werkself will see them eliminated...
Bayer Leverkusen have already tied up top spot in Europa League Group B, but they will be the side to execute defending champions Atletico Madrid if they pick up a win at the BayArena on Thursday evening. For Atleti, it promises to be an extremely uncomfortable evening as even victory will not guarantee progress to the last 32.
Die Werkself have had surprisingly few problems negotiating their way to the knockout stages. The Bundesliga club are unbeaten, having earned three victories two date, two over Rosenborg and a home success against Aris. Impressively, the Germans have conceded only one goal, leaking in the away tie against los Colchoneros.
Despite their status in the next round, Lars Bender has promised Bayer’s fans that they should expect a thoroughly commitment performance from their side. “We play every game to win,” he told his club’s official website. “We won’t change that against Madrid. None of us wants to hear after the game that he didn’t do his best. There is a lot at stake in this match – not only for Madrid but also for Aris. So we will obviously do our best.”
Second in their domestic league but already a mammoth 11 points behind runaway leaders Borussia Dortmund, Bayer have lost only two fixtures in all competitions this season and won’t be willing to give up such an impressive statistic against unpredictable Atleti.
Don’t Look For Luck
In May, Atletico Madrid tasted the high point of 2010 as they defeated Fulham to claim the inaugural Europa League. By December, however, the unpredictable Colchoneros are at something of a low. Struggling for consistency in La Primera Division, they are also on the brink of continental elimination and don’t even hold the key to their own destiny.
A shock defeat at home against Greek minnows Aris – the second suffered against the Thessaloniki club in this competition - a fortnight ago ensure that a trip to Germany that was supposed to determine the group winners has instead become a fraught journey that may well end in disappointment.
“Right now we have the same points as Aris. They also have to win, but we will depend on ourselves and not look for luck,” Tiago told the press. “We must improve and perform regularly. Against Leverkusen we have nothing to lose; we as a team have to be more relaxed on the pitch.”
It was Atletico’s ability away from home in last season’s run to the final that caught the eye as they avoided defeat on their travels. Quique Sanchez Flores’ men were draw specialists, but it’s really three points they need on Thursday if they are to stand any chance of going through.
Rene Adler is set to be sidelined until next year due to a knee injury. Fabian Giefer will keep goal instead.
Michael Ballack continues to be ruled out, though the home side hold out hope that Stefan Kiessling can play.
Quique Sanchez Flores has named a 19-man panel for this trip and has not raised any injury doubts. Tomas Ujfalusi has been omitted from the squad.