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The Uefa Champions League returns for the knock-out stage after the winter break this Tuesday, and on the first night of fixtures Barcelona travel to Germany to face Bayer Leverkusen, who have made the last 16 after a six year absence from Europe’s elite competition.
Leverkusen qualified as runners-up in the group stage; finishing 1 point behind winners Chelsea with 11 points in their 6 games which included home wins over Genk, Chelsea, and Valencia.
The German club failed to win any of their away matches at group stage, and will see this first leg tie as a must win game if they are to have any chance of progression to the quarter finals.
Since their final Champions League game back at the beginning of December, Leverkusen failed to impress at domestic level; winning just 1 of their 4 Bundesliga games, which included a heavy 0-3 home loss to lowly Nurnberg.
Their recent form must be a concern with the visit of arguably the best team in the world just a day away, but Leverkusen will have to go for the win here, which just might be their undoing.
Bayer Leverkusen 11/2
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Barcelona won their group comfortably; dropping just 2 points in their 6 games, qualifying with games to spare. Their 2-2 home draw with AC Milan on matchday 1 was their only disappointing result.
Pep Guardiola’s team are still oozing quality and charisma, but they are certainly not having it all their own way in La Liga this season. They are currently 10 points behind league leaders Real Madrid and appear to have their work cut out to defend their title.
Most alarming has been Barcelona’s away results this season. They’ve won just 4 of 11 games on their travels; drawing 5 and losing 2.
Their latest away loss came this weekend just gone; going down 3-2 to Osasuna, although they did start with Cesc Fabregas, Xavi and Andres Iniesta on the bench.
Barcelona will be comfortable with a draw in this first leg, however the way the game should be played out may suit the visitors down to a tee.
Leverkusen need a result here at all costs, and may leave themselves vulnerable to a number of swooping counter attacks from the most dangerous attacking side in the world.
While their away form at domestic level has been average at best, Barcelona can raise their performance levels here and secure a first leg win over Leverkusen, and ultimately progress to the quarter finals after the return leg at Camp Nou.