Bayer Leverkusen – Manchester United (Champions League)
Bayer Leverkusen will be welcoming Manchester United at the BayArena next Wednesday for a crucial fixture in the Champions League Group A, with the English champions sitting atop the table on eight points, two points ahead of Sami Hyypia’s men and three points clear from Shakhtar Donetsk.
Bayer Leverkusen will be looking to get a ninth consecutive home win in the Champions League group stage that would allow them to top the group at the end of the day – and things could hardly look better for them. During that home-winning streak, Bayer Leverkusen have defeated powerhouses such as Real Madrid, Valencia and Roma. With 10 wins from their first 13 matches – and four from their last six –, Bayer Leverkusen have made their best start ever to the Bundesliga, despite Andre Schürrle’s sale to Chelsea. The forward’s departure was expected to leave an enduring mark on the team’s attacking plans, but the injured Sidney Sam has picked up the pace and dissipated any doubts that might overshadow the team. Furthermore, the in-form striker Stefan Kiessling, constantly overlooked by German manager Joachim Löw, seems determined to prove his critics wrong with impressive displays and goals from all angles (including goal nets with holes). Sami Hyypia will be missing the aforementioned Sam, but also Hilbert, Palop, Reinartz and Boenisch.
Probable line-up: Leno – Donati, Wollscheid, Toprak, Can – Rolfes, Hegeler, Bender – Castro, Son, Kiessling
Even though they are currently on a 4-match winless run in the latest away matches (three draws and one defeat) – their worst run since February 2004-December 2005 –, Manchester United have only conceded 8 goals in their last 15 Champions League matches. Manager David Moyes certainly hasn’t found things easy at United and has not exactly hit the ground running, a situation made worse by the last-gasp 2-2 draw in Cardiff last weekend. Still, they are unbeaten in their last 10 matches in all competitions (including an energetic 1-0 win against Arsenal a few weeks ago) and now sit sixth in the Premier League table after a dreadful start to the season. Moyes will hope against hope that both Van Persie and Vidic are fit to start this critical match, after missing the game in Wales. On the other hand, the Scottish manager will have to do without the injured Michael Carrick and the suspended Marouane Fellaini, further aggravating the situation in United’s already thin midfield. Phil Jones may be cleared in time to take a place in midfield alongside Tom Cleverley. Despite his rash tackle last Saturday that has made the rounds, Wayne Rooney will be expected to provide the main attacking threat as the team’s most reliable forward and Britain’s all-time leading scorer in the competition. On the home match, the volatile Rooney scored a brace and provided an assist.
Probable line-up: De Gea – Smalling, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra – Valencia, Cleverley, Jones, Kagawa, – Rooney, Van Persie
This should be an interesting match. While Bayer Leverkusen currently have the most goals scored, United have the lowest number on the conceded goals column. The match between these two teams at Old Trafford yielded a rather thrilling 4-2 win for United and, based on the approach from both teams and the need for both to grab the three points (victory would get the English team through), there is no reason to believe the same can’t happen on Wednesday night. Bayer Leverkusen, in particular, will try to extend their home winning streak and simultaneously end a 5-match winless streak against Manchester United, with no clean sheets along the way. The record also shows that English opposition are not exactly Leverkusen’s cup of tea, with 8 defeats in 9 matches when playing English teams.