Champions League preview: Leverkusen facing huge task to overhaul Barca lead
TRAILING 3-1 from the first leg, Bayer Leverkusen will have to be the first club in nearly 30 years to overturn a two-goal deficit at Barcelona to reach the Champions League quarter-finals.
Barcelona have a number of injury concerns but are on course to reach the quarter-finals for the fifth straight season. The European champions have won 31 of 33 times when starting a two-legged tie with a victory away from home, and not since a 4-1 loss to Metz in 1984 have Barca failed to hold on to a two-goal lead at the Nou Camp.
Leverkusen have won three league matches, including a 2-0 win over Bayern Munich, since losing to Barcelona, but the Germans haven’t won away in Europe in nearly a decade.
“Realistically, we don’t stand much of a chance. But we want to give Barcelona a game,” striker Stefan Kiessling said.
As expected, Barca manager Pep Guardiola was cautious. He said: “We are preparing for a Champions League match against a rival that beat Bayern (Munich) 2-0.” His failure to agree a contract extension could be seen as a distraction but he added: “Some may take Leverkusen for granted and underestimate them but we still have a lot of work to do to get ready for a team with a lot of height that, with a corner kick, can break open the knockout stages.”
Barcelona have striker Alexis Sanchez and defender Eric Abidal both missing, while midfielder Thiago Alcantara missed Saturday’s 3-1 win over Sporting Gijon with a leg injury. Lionel Messi, who is the competition’s top-scorer with seven, is expected to return. Vedran Corluka is a doubt for the Germans and captain Michael Ballack is out.
In tonight’s other last-16 tie, Apoel Nicosia will again try to defy expectations and overturn a 1-0 deficit against Lyon to continue their historic Champions League run.
Apoel are already the first Cypriot team to reach this stage of the tournament and will rely on home advantage to go even further.
The team has only lost once in 10 European matches at Nicosia’s GSP stadium, and had group wins over Shakhtar Donetsk and Porto there.