February brings with it the knockout round of the Champions League, and tomorrow we kick off our quest for a 2nd championship in a row, 3rd in Pep’s era, and 5th overall. In our way is German club Bayern Leverkusen. They are 6th in the Bundesliga table, but a long way off 4th place, let alone first. Underestimating them would however not be wise, seeing as they defeated both Chelsea and Valencia this year already. Their most famous commodity, in truth though living off his name, Michael Ballack won’t play due to injury, however, it’s been strongly rumored the club are trying to push him out of the club. Lucky for us Adler is injured, because at his peak Rene Adler was a proper top keeper. There are however some known names in right back Freidrich, former Spurs man Corluka, as well as Rolfes, and Gonzalo Castro. But their main threat is really upfront with two young, dangerous players in Kießling and Schürrle.
Historically we have favored reasonably well against Leverkusen, winning 3 of our 6 meetings. Most recently in the 2002/3 season we defeated them twice in the 2nd group stage.
There is no doubt everyone expects a victory. That is all people expect of Barça these days, and my opinion on that is not the subject of today. A reaction to the league defeat in Osasuna and seemingly lost La Liga amps up the desire of fans to see the team bounce back. 22 players travelled to Leverkusen today, meaning 4 will drop out of the final squad list, including B team players Dos Santos, Tello, Sergi Roberto, Bartra, and Oier. Busquets has not received the medical go ahead, but is in Germany, though I would be surprised to see him start. I rate the starting 11 isn’t as difficult as usual to predict. The back 4 should be the same as Saturday, with Iniesta and Xavi joining Mascherano in the midfield. Messi and Alexis will surely start and my guess would be that Cesc join them, as Pedro looks off his game and should suit an impact role better. But saying that Pep may throw in a surprise, like Thiago.
I believe tomorrow will go far better than Saturday, particularly at the back because the defense may just want to show up some unnecessarily harsh criticism coming their way. Barça have scored an average of 4 goals away from home in the competition, but our opponents in the group stage must be factored in. It’s delightful having this competition back and seeing a classy FC Barcelona display leading to a victory would be the best Valentine present of them all from my true life love.