FC Barcelona vs. Bayer Leverkusen: 5 Bayer Leverkusen Players to Watch
The UEFA Champions League Round of 16 draw was rather kind to FC Barcelona. The Catalans avoided the likes of Lyon and Napoli, and in Bayer Leverkusen, they face one of the weaker, more predictable sides in the competition.
Unlike Lyon, Marseille or FC Basel, who overcome significant adversity to shockingly qualify for the round of 16 in the final round, Bayer Levekusen's group stage campaign ended on a poor note, as the Germans drew with KRC Genk to concede the top spot of the group on the final day to Chelsea.
Notably, the Germans were rather poor on the road, conceding six goals and picking up a solitary point, but were a force to be reckoned with a home, picking up all nine points available to them and conceding only twice.
Despite Leverkusen's minnow status in comparison to FC Barcelona, the club does boast some talented players.
FC Barcelona will have to be wary of such players if they hope to secure smooth passage to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League.
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At the age of 35, Michael Ballack has been a "golden oldie" for quite some time now.
The Ballack of Bayern Munich has been gone for some time now, but today's Ballack bears great similarity the Ballack of Chelsea, minus a bit of pace.
Michael Ballack continues to be a determined, gritty force in midfield. He doesn't play as an attacking midfielder anymore, as he did in his prime, but from his holding midfielder role Michael Ballack is still able to pop up with a goal every so often.
Stat attack: In his two seasons with Bayer Leverkusen since leaving Chelsea, Leverkusen have won every game in which Ballack has scored. The record currently stands at five goals scored, five games won.
FC Barcelona will want to keep Ballack off the score sheet in order to avoid making this tie more competitive than it should be on paper.
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This season, Bayer Leverkusen have sorely lacked the presence of a regular goalscorer.
In recent years, Stefan Kiessling and Patrick Helmes have combined to provide most of the scoring for Leverkusen, but this season Helmes is at VfL Wolfsburg, and Kiessling simply isn't producing.
Leverkusen's best hope for goals seems to be Eren Derdiyok.
In truth, Leverkusen have been waiting for Derdiyok to break out for some time now. He has been a consistent performer for Leverkusen, but his performances have not been of a high enough quality for that consistency to reflect positively on Derdiyok.
Stat Attack: Deridyok has scored six goals in the last five games he's played in. Leverkusen will be hoping he can keep his hot form up until Leverkusen's matchup with Chelsea.
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Andre Schurrle is a bit of an enigma at Bayer Leverkusen. After lighting up the Bundesliga with FSV Mainz 05 last season to the tune of 15 goals and five assists in 33 league matches, Schurrle's star has faded considerably this season with Leverkusen.
He has four goals and three assists to his name with Werkself this season in 20 matches, and has shown in flashes the brilliance he showed last season.
Leverkusen will be hoping he can recapture his magic between now and February to give Leverkusen's chances of success against FC Barcelona a major boost.
Stat Attack: Schurrle recorded his three assists of the season in direct succession with one another in Leverkusen's last four games. He failed to record an assist in the four game, which ended as a 0-0 draw.
Bernd Leno started the 2011-12 season as nothing more than a youth goalkeeper from VfB Stuttgart signed on loan by Bayer Leverkusen to cover for Rene Adler's injury.
Now, Leno is Bayer Levekusen's undisputed first-choice keeper, and it has been confirmed that Rene Adler will remain on the bench, even when he completes his recovery.
Stat Attack: In 15 Bundesliga matches, Bernd Leno has let in a respectable 17 goals, but more impressively, he's kept seven clean sheets.
Bayer Leverkusen will be hoping that Leno's magic in the sticks will keep the score down against FC Barcelona and given Leverkusen a chance to get a favorable result in the first leg of the round.
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Renato Augusto has not had the opportunity to have a major impact on Bayer Leverkusen's 2011-12 campaign, having injured his knee earlier this season.
However, when fit, Renato Augusto is arguably the most creative and dangerous player that Leverkusen have at their disposal.
Stat Attack: Last year was the Brazilian's breakout season as he scored seven goals and assisted six more as an attacking midfielder.
With both Augusto and Tranquillo Barnetta returning from major injuries in January, the major boost in quality could pose a threat to FC Barcelona come February.
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In the end, the chips are still stacked heavily in Barcelona's favor. However, Bayer Leverkusen are an individually impressive unit. There are quality players available in every position, especially when the team is completely fit.
If Augusto and Barnetta make a healthy and effective return to fitness prior to the two teams' Round of 16 matchup, and a couple of Leverkusen's key players are in good form, Leverkusen may just be able to give FC Barcelona a run for their money.
It's not likely, but it is definitely possible ,especially considering how young this Leverkusen team is once you look past the likes of Michael Ballack and Manuel Friedrich.
Thoughts? Could Bayer Leverkusen pose a threat to Barca, or are they in for a good beating no matter what they do or whatever from they may be in come February? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.