Atletico Madrid arrive at Bayer Leverkusen for Wednesday’s Champions League last 16, first leg, clash hoping for a sixth straight clean-sheet in Europe, with Mario Mandzukic and Antoine Griezmann hunting more goals.
Between them the pair have already bagged 37 goals this season as the 2014 Champions League finalists look to leave Leverkusen’s BayArena with an advantage in the hunt for a quarter-final place.
Former Bayern Munich striker Mandzukic has already shown Pep Guardiola what he is missing in Bavaria by scoring 20 goals, while Griezmann has hit the net 17 times for Atletico this season.
French midfielder Griezmann says Diego Simeone’s Madrid need a good start in Leverkusen, just as they had in Saturday’s 3-0 home league win over Almeria to stay third in the table.
“We need to keep working and enjoying the games like we are at the moment,” said the Frenchman after netting in the 20th and 29th minute following Mandzukic’s 13th-minute penalty.
“We need to face all the games the same way, trying to win and coming out flying from the start.”
The only casualty for Madrid is midfielder Koke, who will miss the first leg with a hamstring injury having, scored two goals and provided four assists in the group stages.
Olympiacos were the last team to score against Atletico when they enjoyed a 3-2 group stage win in Greece back in September.
Since then, Madrid have scored 12 goals without reply in Europe, including a 5-0 thumping of Malmo and a 4-0 thrashing of Olympiacos in the return leg.
– Leverkusen luckless in last 16 –
Bayer have never won a last-16 tie in the competition’s current format and will have to work hard to change that statistic against an Atletico side who finished top of Group A ahead of Juventus.
Leverkusen are winless in their last three league matches and have had little to cheer about at this stage of the competition in recent years.
They were thumped 4-0 at home by Paris St Germain last season on the way to a 6-1 aggregate defeat.
That came two years after Lionel Messi ran riot when Bayer’s 3-1 defeat in Leverkusen preceded a 7-1 humiliation away to Barcelona in 2012 when Messi netted five times.
Leverkusen are without Australia winger Robbie Kruse, who has an ankle injury, while defensive midfielder Sven Bender and defender Tin Jedvaj are doubtful with knee and hamstring injuries respectively.
Having dropped to sixth in the Bundesliga after Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Augsburg, qualifying for next season’s Champions League is of more pressing concern than progressing in this season’s edition.
“Of course I am concerned for our European qualification for next season,” said Leverkusen’s director of sport Rudi Voeller.
“We have simply given too many points away this season.
“A few things aren’t working as we’d like them to.”
South Korea striker Son Heung-Min will be looking to add to his three Champions League goals in six games so far this season, having also netted a Bundesliga hat-trick in Leverkusen’s 5-4 defeat to Wolfsburg ten days ago.
Leverkusen will be with suspended defender Omer Toprak, who was sent off in their final group stage match at Benfica which ended in a goalless draw. – Agence France-Presse