The UEFA Champions League is back, and according to the form book, something has got to give. Bayer Leverkusen are on a run of three straight home wins in the prestigious competition, but they only have one win from their last six league matches. On the other hand, Barcelona have managed an average of four goals per game away from home in the UCL, but are on a run of three away games without a win. The formbook is hinting at a close match, and I have to admit, I am pretty nervous ahead of tomorrow.
The BayArena may be a small ground, but 30,000 Leverkusen fans will create a hostile atmosphere in the hope it knocks the Blaugrana off their game. Barcelona will be looking to escape with as favourable a result as possible, or at least an away goal to their name. Both sides have an injury problem; the two teams are actually incredibly evenly matched, unless Pep Guardiola’s side decides to turn up tomorrow.
In terms of the Blaugrana lineup, there is little to discuss, they must field the strongest side possible. Victor Valdes in goal and Pep will be looking for an improvement from the weekend’s match, and specifically a clean sheet. That would ease the pressure that’s increasing on Lionel Messi; after all, the frontline would only need to manage a single goal to win.
The pressure would be on the defense to deliver as well, but a backline of Dani Alves, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique and Eric Abidal usually step up in these types of games. For example, in various matches against Real Madrid (that’s the importance of the game tomorrow); both Alves and Puyol have taken turns to absolutely dominate Cristiano Ronaldo. Gerard Pique was impressive in the 6-2 Clasico as well, while Eric Abidal has been known to take control of the left-side of the pitch in his best matches. If any of them step up tomorrow, a clean sheet is not only probable, but extremely likely.
Thankfully, Sergio Busquets should have recovered sufficiently from his knee injury to take his place as midfield anchor man, so Xavi and Andres Iniesta will be absolved of the defensive responsibility that has been hindering the performances of their replacements in recent matches. Iniesta in particular will provide a massive boost, and if he can play at 80-90%, the chance creation will be increased significantly, while Leo Messi will be able to stay upfront. That’s where he is most dangerous, and with Cesc in midfield, he is not at his goal-scoring best. Hence, I think Cesc will have to settle for a place on the bench.
In attack, I presume that we will again see the combination of Alexis Sanchez, Pedro and Lionel Messi. It showed promise at times on Saturday, and Sanchez was one of, if not the only bright spot from that match. It’s time the Chilean stepped up to the plate though, turning those near misses into goals. I truly believe that if he can do that, and work on his decision-making, he could reach a level similar to Cristiano Ronaldo.
Leverkusen are likely to be without top scorer Eren Derdiyok, legendary midfielder Michael Ballack, pacy winger Sidney Sam and are still without long-term absentees Rene Adler and Tranquillo Barnetta. Goals have been a problem for the Germans, and the remaining attackers in the squad are yet to break the 10 goal barrier between them. If we can nullify their counter-attacks, this game is totally winnable. However, I am still unconvinced.
Match Prediction: Barcelona to draw 1-1, with Alexis grabbing the goal