The last time Bayer Leverkusen visited Camp Nou, in March 2012, they received a 7-1 thrashing from Pep Guardiola’s Barça. Leo Messi played an absolute blinder that night, scoring five in one of the most dazzling displays ever seen in the Champions League. Messi will miss the reencounter between the two sides in tomorrow night’s Group E match (Tuesday 8.45 pm) as he begins a seven-to-eight week absence with his ligament injury.
There is no player in the world who could contribute as much as Messi does for Barça, but the Argentinian’s injury arrives when Barça have recently lost Pedro to Chelsea and Rafinha to injury, leaving just Munir and Sandro as the only natural forwards available to take Messi’s place. Neither of the youngsters can be called a top class striker without inserting the word “potentially” though they now have a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate their worth.
The Catalan press have been running polls asking fans whether Luis Enrique should choose Munir or Sandro or another, such as Iniesta, to accompany Neymar and Luis Suárez in attack. It seems likely that the Barça coach will use various options during Messi’s absence, including the possibility of changing formation to 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1. Lucho has plenty of players available but there is an imbalance which means players normally used in the back four will need to cover for the lack of attacking midfielders and forwards.
For tomorrow’s game I think Munir should be given another chance. It would be good for his confidence after playing a role in both Barça’s goals against Las Palmas, and it would also allow an orthodox line-up elsewhere. Another strong option would be to play both Alves and Sergi Roberto with one of them playing further forward on the right wing.
There was good news this morning when Claudio Bravo and Jordi Alba both trained with the group and they could both be in contention to play tomorrow though Bravo seems more likely to start on the bench. Adriano, however, missed the session while Gerard Gumbau continues with the first team. Considering this is a Champions League match we can expect Luis Enrique to play his strongest possible team though how he adapts to Messi’s absence remains to be seen. It will certainly make predicting the team more interesting.
Leverkusen arrive as Group E leaders after beating BATE Borisov 4-1 while Barça drew at Roma. Coach Roger Schmidt is without Charles Aranguiz, Omer Toprak and Tin Jedvaj for tomorrow’s game while right-back Roberto Hilbert is a doubt. The German side arrive in good form after winning 0-3 at Werder Bremen on Saturday.
Barça: Ter Stegen; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Munir, Suárez, Neymar.
Bayer Leverkusen: Leno; Donati, Tah, Papadopoulos, Wendell; Mehmedi, Bender, Kramer, Calhanoglu; Chicharito Hernandez, Bellarabi.
Prediction: Barça 2 Leverkusen 0
Date: Tuesday 29 September 2015. Kick-off 8.45 pm local time.