Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 6/5
AS Monaco will play host to Bayer Leverkusen at the Stade Louis II on Thursday, in the second leg of their meeting in the knockout stage play-offs in the Europa League. The French team won the first leg in Germany by 2-3 as the contest saw the scoreline turned over twice.
It was an own-goal by goalkeeper Lukasz Hradecky that gave Monaco a lead in the ninth minute, but his teammates Moussa Diaby (48′) and Florian Wirtz (59′) made it 2-1. Still, goals from Krepin Diatta (74′) and Axel Disasi (90’+2) meant that Monaco went home with an advantage.
They may not be quite as good as when they won the Ligue 1 title in 2016/17, featuring the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Radamel Falcao, Bernardo Silva, Allan Saint-Maximin and Fabinho, but Monaco are a formidable team once more. Sitting third in the French top flight at the moment on 50 points, behind Paris Saint-Germain on 57 and Olympique Marseille on 52, they will surely give their best to fight for a place in the Champions League next season, and even the title doesn’t seem impossible at this point. It should, however, also be said that Lens in fourth are just a point behind and stand an equal chance of anything Monaco may do.
Philippe Clement’s team are on a fantastic run of form, having won their last five matches following a 1-1 draw away to Marseille. Those triumphs include a 3-2 home win over Auxerre, a 0-2 win away over Clermont Foot, a comprehensive 3-1 win at home over PSG, the 2-3 win over Leverkusen in the first leg, and a 1-2 win away to Brest on Sunday.
Monaco went through Group H in the Europa League, finishing second on goal-difference to Hungarian side Ferencvaros, and ahead of Turkish Trabzonspor and Red Star Belgrade of Serbia.
Striker Kevin Volland has been ruled out through an ankle injury, while centre-back Guillermo Maripan (knee), right-backs Vanderson (knee) and Ruben Aguilar (thigh), as well as winger Gelson Martins (thigh) remain doubts at this point. Presuming none of these players are fit to play, Monaco’s starting XI should look something like this:
Alexander Nubel in goal. Disasi and Malang Sarr in the heart of defence, flanked by Chrislain Matsima on the right and Caio Henrique on the left. Mohamed Camara and Youssouf Fofana in the middle of the park, with Diatta and Aleksandr Golovin attacking from the flanks, and Eliesse Ben-Seghir supporting captain Wissam Ben Yedder in attack.
As opposed to Monaco, Leverkusen haven’t had a lot to enjoy this season so far. A number of underwhelming results, recorded in ways sometimes hard to understand, have seen them drop well out of any battle for European spots for next season when it comes to Bundesliga placement.
At the moment, Xabi Alonso’s team are 10th in the German top flight with just 27 points, 13 less than SC Freiburg in fourth, 12 less than RB Leipzig in fifth, 11 less than Eintracht Frankfurt in sixth, and with Wolfburg, Borussia Monchengladbach and Mainz 05 squeezed in between. This, of course, is a huge step down for the team that finished third last season and spent the first half of this campaign playing in the Champions League.
Leverkusen were drawn in Group B of UEFA’s elite competition, leaving it at the end of the group stage as third, behind FC Porto and Club Brugge and with only Atletico Madrid below.
The last-six run has seen some flickers of hope for Bayer, but there have also been disappointments, and if they intend to salvage something of the season, their first aim will be to achieve some stability. The run includes a 2-0 home win over VfL Bochum, a 0-2 home defeat to Borussia Dortmund, a 1-0 defeat away to Augsburg, a 1-3 win away to Hoffenheim, the 2-3 loss at home to Monaco in the first leg, and a defeat at home at the hands of Mainz by the same scoreline.
Alonso has been dealt a big blow by Diaby picking up a groin injury which is likely to force the winger to sit this game out. Midfielder Charles Aranguiz is out with a calf strain, while goalkeeper Andrey Lunev still struggles with a back problem.
Hradecky is set to captain the side from his position between the posts. Edmond Tapsoba and Jonathan Tah should start in the heart defence, with Jeremie Frimpong on the right and Mitchel Bakker on the left. Exequiel Palacios and Robert Andrich should pair up in the middle of the park, with the trio of Wirtz, Amine Adli and Nadiem Amiri supporting striker Patrik Schick.
Given the way the first leg panned out, it’s reasonable to expect Monaco to steer the second match of this tie in the direction they want in front of their own supporters. A team of such quality, on the form they are at the moment, shouldn’t have too many difficulties in seeing this Leverkusen side off.
Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 6/5
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