Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 13/5
The Europa League will go into the knockout stages together with the other two UEFA competitions this week, and in the round of 16, this Thursday, Bayer Leverkusen will welcome AS Monaco to the BayArena for the first leg of their fight for a place in the quarterfinals.
Having started the season in the Champions League, Leverkusen were a part of Group B, along with Atletico Madrid, FC Porto and Club Brugge. They opened the campaign with a 1-0 defeat away to Brugge and bounced back with a 2-0 home win over Atletico. Porto then beat them twice, 2-0 in Portugal and 0-3 in Germany, followed by two draws, 2-2 against Atletico in Madrid and 0-0 at home against Brugge.
The five points those games brought them put Leverkusen in third place at the end of the group stage, demoting them to the Europa League. Interestingly enough, Atletico were the one to leave European competitions altogether, with Porto and Brugge going through.
Over in Germany, Leverkusen face an uphill task to qualify for Europe next season. At the moment, they are in eighth place with 27 points from 20 games. That’s 10 points less than SC Freiburg in fourth place, the last to warrant Champions League qualification, nine points less than fifth-place RB Leipzig, and eight points less than Eintracht Frankfurt in sixth. Even Wolfsburg, sitting in between in seventh with 30 points, won’t find it easy to climb the ladder.
To get a look at Leverkusen’s last-six run counting only competitive matches, one needs to go as far as November, the last match before the World Cup, when they triumphed 2-0 at home against VfB Stuttgart. The season in Germany restarted in the second half of January, and since then, Xabi Alonso’s men beat Borussia in Monchengladbach 2-3, beat VfL Bochum 2-0 at home, lost 0-2 at home to Borussia Dortmund, lost 1-0 away to Augsburg, and triumphed 1-3 away to Hoffenheim. It’s obviously a mixed run of form.
Xabi Alonso has a few notable players absent for this clash, starting with striker Patrick Schick who won’t be back for another month due to a groin problem. Midfielder Charles Aranguiz is out with a calf injury, as is goalkeeper Andrey Lunyov with a back problem.
Captain Lukasz Hradecky will be in goal, with the trio of Edmond Tapsoba, Piero Hincapie and Jonathan Tah forming the back line. Robert Andrich and Kerem Demirbay will likely pair up in the middle of the park, with Jeremie Frimpong and Daley Sinkgraven out wide. Upfront, Moussa Diaby and Florian Wirtz should play in support of Adam Hlozek, though Alonso could choose to go with a more fluid line and start Callum Hudson-Odoi instead of the Czech international.
Monaco are currently the talk of the league in France, after properly dismantling Paris Saint-Germain at the weekend at the Stade Louis II. The 3-1 victory over the reigning Ligue 1 champions was the crown of a very fine run of last six matches in all competitions for Philippe Clement’s team, which also includes a 2-2 draw away to Lorient, a 7-1 destruction of Ajaccio at home, a 1-1 draw away to Olympique Marseille, a 3-2 home win over Auxerre, and a 0-2 win away to Clermont Foot a week before the PSG clash.
Monaco are currently third in the French top flight with 47 points to their name, seven less than holders PSG, two less than Marseille in second, and one more than Lens in fourth. With only the top two spots warranting Champions League places next term, it will be an exciting race for the remainder of the season.
In the Europa League, Monaco were drawn in Group H, where they beat Red Star 0-1 in Belgrade, lost 0-1 at home to Ferencvaros, beat Trabzonspor 3-1 at home, lost 4-0 to Trabzonspor in Turkey, drew 1-1 against Ferencvaros in Hungary, and eventually beat Red Star at home by 4-1 to secure progress to the knockout stage.
Defenders Malang Sarr and Vanderson are out with a hip injury and a knee sprain, respectively. Striker Kevin Volland is a doubt with a bruised rib.
Bayern Munich loanee Alexander Nubel will be in goal, with Axel Disasi and Guillermo Maripan as the centre-back duo, Ruben Aguilar on the right defensive flank, and Caio Henrique on the left. Mohamed Camara and Youssouf Fofana should pair up in the middle of the park, with Krepin Diatta and Aleksandr Golovin in more advanced midfield roles, and Wissam Ben Yedder joined by Volland upfront, providing the German striker recovers in time. If not, his place will be taken by Breel Embolo.
Monaco appear far more stable than Leverkusen this term, and they’re mostly seen as the favourites to progress to the quarterfinals. The bookies, on the other hand, don’t seem them as the likely winners of this clash, so that could prove a great opportunity at significantly long odds.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 13/5
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