Leverkusen eyeing home comforts as Atletico beckon

BERLIN • Bayer Leverkusen will hope to put their erratic league form behind them and adopt their most determined European game face when they host Atletico Madrid in their Champions League last-16 first leg tie today.

The Germans have lost nine times in their domestic campaign while dropping to eighth in the Bundesliga table but can take comfort from an unbeaten 10-match streak at home in Europe as they seek to advance past the knockout stages for the first time.

Leverkusen did reach the Champions League final in 2002 where they lost to Real Madrid but back then, there was no round-of-16 but only two group stages with the quarter-finals after that.

They now hope their European form will carry them past Atletico, who have reached the final in two of the last three seasons.

"Why not win against them?" said Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno.

"If we show our Champions League face, then everything is possible. You can see the team really wants it. We are fighting and we are fighting for each other."

Atletico, who lost in the Champions League final in both 2014 and 2016 to their city rivals Real, were beaten by Leverkusen 1-0 in Germany two years ago but advanced 3-2 on penalties in the return leg.

Diego Simeone's men may not have excelled as in past seasons, but are still fourth in Primera Liga, seven points behind Real who have two games in hand.

Atletico will be banking on forward Kevin Gameiro, who scored a remarkable hat-trick in the space of less than five minutes during the 4-1 win at Gijon on Saturday.

It was the fastest treble in La Liga since 1995, when Bebeto scored three for Deportivo against Albacete in exactly four minutes.

Atletico will be without defender Diego Godin, ruled out with a thigh injury but will have goalkeeper Jan Oblak back after his shoulder surgery in December.

Oblak will be a massive boost as the Slovenian international has kept eight clean sheets in 13 Champions League games as Atletico reached the final last season.

"Oblak has received the medical all clear at the end of Sunday morning's training session," Atletico said in a statement.

"The Slovenian has been able to fully train with the rest of the group since Wednesday."



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2017, with the headline 'Leverkusen eyeing home comforts as Atletico beckon'. Print Edition | Subscribe