Bayer Leverkusen kick off their Champions League campaign against AS Monaco on Tuesday after being drawn into one of the toughest groups, but will their strong start to the Bundesliga season make them more confident or cautious?
Roger Schmidt will take charge of his first European game with Bayer as they fly to France to take on a Monaco side who have been inhibited by the loss of their talismanic forwards, James Rodriquez and Radamel Falcao. They are currently 16th after five games and they recently suffered a 2-1 defeat to Olympique Lyonnais.
Back at the Bay Arena, Leverkusen dropped their first points of the season after a late equaliser from Sebastian Prodl rescued a draw for Werder Bremen as it finished 3-3 on Friday night. Tin Jedvaj put Bayer ahead with his second goal of his debut season before Bremen took a shock a lead following goals from Fin Bartels and Franco Di Santo. Hakan Calhanoglu and Heung-Min Son then put Bayer ahead again before the win was snatched away by a late leveller.
After three games, Schmidt’s side remain unbeaten after an opening stint of tough opponents. They shocked Borussia Dortmund on the opening weekend of the season with a 2-0 win at the Westfalenstadion before beating Hertha Berlin 4-2 the following week. But this week’s Champions League fixture will certainly test the club’s squad depth.
Leverkusen have been drawn into group C with AS Monaco, Zenit St. Petersburg and S.L. Benfica – a group, which on paper, looks daunting. Zenit are recognised for their feature forward Hulk and supporting midfielders, Danny and Axel Witsel. However, it will be the cold conditions that will be the real test for their opposition. Benfica are the Portuguese Champions and are the favourites to progress as group winners due to the vast experience in European competitions, most recently last season as they reached the Europa League final.
This opener for Roger Schmidt could prove to be a very decisive game in their campaign and this will be his first game in the Champions League. Last year, with his former club Red Bull Salzburg, he helped take the Austrian Champions to the last 16 before they lost to Basel.
Bayer also reached the last 16 phase in the Champions League however, they were swept aside by Paris Saint-Germain, 6-2 on aggregate.
After the impressive start Bayer have made to the new Bundesliga campaign, there is a feeling that they could break the duopoly forming at the top of the German League. Surely then there is no reason why Bayer can’t take this momentum into the Champions League campaign too.
Calhanoglu is confident
Midfielder, Hakan Calhanoglu, feels his side will go into the game on Tuesday high on confidence despite drawing against Bremen when it looked like they could win by three or four goals in the first half.
He told Bundesliga.com: “We always try to play well. That’s our system and we’ll go to Monaco looking to play exactly the same way. We won’t underestimate them – we don’t underestimate any opposition. But we will go there with a lot of confidence.”
Lars Bender will be available for Tuesday’s match after he returned to action on Friday to join Gonzalo Castro and Calhanoglu in the centre of midfield. Josip Drmic is also available and could fill in for strike partner, Stefan Kießling to give him time to recover for their next league game against Wolfsburg this Saturday.
Schmidt made plenty of acquisitions over the summer to compensate for the tough season ahead with further European fixtures being stacked on top of the league and cup campaign. The title challenge will be the main aim for this season yet a run in Europe wouldn’t be turned away. But has Schmidt done enough dealing to direct a siege on both competitions or will the German opt for a more cautious approach in his first European Cup?