Two teams familiar with the UEFA Champions League will meet at the BayArena as Bayer 04 Leverkusen host PFC CSKA Moscow on Wednesday night. Jack Grimse gives you a rundown and a few things to watch for.
Fresh off an exhilarating comeback win thanks to unlikely hat-trick hero Joel Pohjanpalo, Bayer Leverkusen have some momentum in their favour. Manager Roger Schmidt’s side will also be playing at home, where they haven’t lost since the 2nd of March. Their opponents, CSKA Moscow, haven’t suffered defeat on the road since the 16th of April. Something’s gotta give. Or they could draw!
Leverkusen have a lot of bodies that are banged up. Karim Bellarabi went down just 12 seconds into the match on Saturday, and fellow attackers Kevin Volland and Stefan Kießling remain sidelined with injuries of their own. Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández returned against Hamburg, and should be available for selection.
CSKA have a clean bill of health other than Aleksandrs Cauna. If you haven’t been following the Russian Premier League, Leonid Slutsky’s side is in second place, unbeaten in six matches, having won four and drawn two.
What to watch for:
1. Lack of striker depth concerning for both:
As previously mentioned, Kießling and Volland are out with Chicharito just returning to fitness for Bayer. Pohjanpalo could get a chance to start up top if Schmidt sticks with a formation that employs a striker partnership. Two-metre man (6’8″) Lacina Traoré just joined this summer on loan from Monaco, but has two goals in five matches so far in league play. Carlos Strandberg is the only other striker on the books at CSKA, but both have made the trip.
2. Midfields must carry the load:
Skutsky likes to use a five-man midfield in general, and is essentially forced to with only two true forwards at his disposal. Alan Dzagoev, Roman Eremenko and Zoran Tošić are all proven at this level. Experience (or lack thereof) is also important for Die Werkself. Julian Baumgartlinger will be playing in the Champions League for the first time if chosen, but Lars Bender should provide a steadying presence.
3. Three points will go a long way:
Neither side made it out of the group stage in last year’s edition of the competition, so grabbing a win on Matchday 1 will be on the mind of both managers. Bayer didn’t lose any of their three home matches a season ago, but probably are still regretting conceding four times to Roma in a wild match where they took a 2-0 lead, went down 2-4, but battled back to earn a draw. Schmidt’s men finished level on six points with Roma, and had a superior goal difference, but ended up in the Europa League after losing UEFA’s head-to-head tiebreaker while Roma went to the knockout round. CSKA finished bottom of their group, only taking four points and losing all three away fixtures, each by a one-goal margin.
Bayer Leverkusen (4-4-2):
Bernd Leno; Tin Jedvaj, Ömer Toprak, Jonathan Tah, Wendell; Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Julian Baumgartlinger, Lars Bender, Julian Brandt; Joel Pohjanpalo, Chicharito.
CSKA Moscow (4-2-3-1):
Igor Akinfeev; Mário Fernandes, Sergey Ignashevich, Vasili Berezutski, Georgi Schennikov; Pontus Wernbloom, Bibras Natcho; Zoran Tošić, Roman Eremenko, Alan Dzagoev; Lacina Traoré.