The UEFA Champions League has reached the business end of the competition. It's knockout football. There is no margin for error, there can be no more slip-ups. Ahead of the round of 16, we take a closer look at how Leverkusen made it through the group stage and assess their chances of marching into the quarter-finals.
THE JOURNEY SO FAR
In a group that was always going to be extremely tight, kicking off the campaign unbeaten with three Matchdays that saw them go up against CSKA, Tottenham Hotspur and Monaco could have been viewed as a fine start. However, emerging at the halfway point winless and with just three points left the Germans with some work to do. Leverkusen rallied as the group stage resumed, however, sealing qualification with a famous victory in London and an impressive 3-0 defeat of Monaco.
MOST EXCITING MOMENT
Leverkusen arrived at London with their backs against the wall. They'd won only one of their last 11 Champions League group games, and only two of their last 24 away. They’d also lost seven of their last eight trips to England in the competition. Their 1-0 win over Spurs on Matchday 4, thanks to Kevin Kampl's goal in front of 87,000 people at England’s famous Wembley Stadium, turned their entire campaign around.
Turning draws into victories was always going to be Leverkusen’s toughest test ahead of any potential qualification for the round of 16. Three draws in last year’s competition was what ultimately cost them their shot at the knockout stage. Overcoming such a poor record against Premier League teams proved vital as Monaco galloped clear.
Javier Hernandez swapped Manchester United for the Bundesliga in 2015, desperate for more regular first-team football. He was an instant hit in Germany, netting 17 Bundesliga goals in his first campaign to fire Leverkusen into the Champions League. He only found the net once in the group stage, but his ability to convert chances made by the likes of talented creative midfielder Julian Brandt remain vital for Roger Schmidt’s side.
CHANCES OF PROGRESSION
Leverkusen will have to battle their own inconsistency to be in with a chance against one of the tournament favourites. Diego Simeone has led Atleti to two of the last three Champions League finals. Nobody in the group stage conceded fewer than the two shipped by Simeone’s side, meaning Leverkusen will have to find a sharper edge in front of goal in order to seal a quarter-final place.