Though Atletico Madrid have been in poor form, they should win the second leg of this round-of-16 tie…
Atletico Madrid v Bayer Leverkusen
Live on Sky Sports 1 and 5
The 2013/14 finalists have a 1-0 first-leg deficit to overturn and don’t approach the task in ideal form, with the current four-game winless run their joint-longest of Diego Simeone’s time in charge.
In their defence, they only lost once in the sequence – at the BayArena – and three of the matches were away. The exception was a tricky clash with Valencia, who are now above them at third in La Liga.
The team news is a concern though. Champions League ever-present Diego Godin is suspended as is Tiago, while regular left back Guilherme Siqueira and Saul Niguez are both injured.
More intriguing than all of that is whether Simeone restores Mario Mandzukic to the side. Atletico’s top scorer across all competitions was benched after the loss in Germany, appearing as a substitute in draws with Sevilla and Valencia before sitting out the stalemate with Espanyol due to a ban.
The rumour is that the Croatian fell out with his coach and deepened the dispute by displaying a poor attitude in training and getting booked off the bench against Valencia for ill-discipline, but with Fernando Torres goalless since January, overlooking him would be counterproductive.
Roger Schmidt’s squad have given themselves a chance of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time since their 2001/02 final appearance with a 1-0 lead. They have also won three in a row to nil in the Bundesliga, albeit benefitting from facing bottom three Freiburg, Paderborn and Stuttgart.
Robbie Kruse is still absent with the ankle injury that he sustained winning the AFC Asian Cup, while Emir Spahic, Tin Jedvaj and Lars Bender’s are doubts that will really hope are disproven for the sake of their defensive efforts.
Match Odds: Atletico Madrid 1.748/11, Bayer Leverkusen 5.79/2, The Draw 3.953/1
The outlook may seem grim for Atletico Madrid, yet there is plenty to be positive about. For starters, they have won eight of their nine Champions League home games under Simeone. The exception was a 0-0 draw with Chelsea last April which still helped them on their way to the final.
They have been flawless this season, following a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Juventus with 5-0 and 4-0 dominations of Malmo and Olympiacos.
Bayer Leverkusen’s away knockout phase record is as awful as Atletico’s hosting record is brilliant. They were beaten the last three times that they travelled abroad at this stage of the competition, conceding 12 times in the process.
The last time that the Spanish champions were tasked with recovering a first-leg deficit in the Champions League was when suffering a 1-0 defeat to Schalke in the 2008/09 preliminaries, with a far less formidable Atletico team than the current ensemble rallying back 4-0.
Atletico Madrid Clean Sheet
Atletico’s recent attacking numbers are a worry, but the same can’t be said for their defensive digits. They have leaked just twice during their four-match triumph-free wobble and have locked out Real Madrid twice at the Calderon in 2015 alone.
It is in the Champions League that they are at their stingiest, being breached once in their previous six encounters and shutting out each of their past five visitors, a talented bunch which included Barcelona, Chelsea and Juventus.
Leverkusen failed to fire in two of their ventures overseas in Group C, with Monaco and Benfica keeping them quiet, and it wasn’t until the 68th minute that they made the breakthrough in the exception at Zenit.
Though they have struck regularly on recent Bundesliga road trips, they didn’t net in 90 minutes at home to second-tier Kaiserslautern in the cup a fortnight ago and were hushed in their latest collisions with fellow German Champions League survivors Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
Best Bet: Back Atletico Madrid to win @ 1.748/11
Other Recommended Bet: Back Atletico Madrid to keep a clean sheet @ 2.1411/10