Bayer Leverkusen may not boast the status of being the strongest team in world football, but the German giants can still exceed expectations in Europe this season, whether it be in the Champions League or the Europa League.
In the present Champions League campaign, Roger Schmidt’s side has performed to a level of competency. However, it is worth noting that Leverkusen have been dealt a tricky hand, being drawn against AS Roma and Barcelona, both among title favourites in their respective leagues.
Leverkusen are still in contention for a spot in the round of 16 as they sit third with four points, just one point behind Roma. A huge factor yet to emerge is the significant advantage the Italian giants acquired over Leverkusen. It is a head-to-head advantage; this will come into play if both teams conclude the group stage level on points. In this case, Roma will advance as they gained four points in the two meetings compared to Leverkusen’s one.
With just two group matches left against BATE Borisov and Barcelona, Leverkusen will have their work cut out for them. In order to progress to the knockout phases, Leverkusen must gain two more points than Roma from the two remaining fixtures.
If the BayArena outfit fails to make the top two and at least finish third, not all European hope is lost. Instead, Leverkusen will get the chance to strut their stuff in the Europa League with an entry straight into the round of 32. Of course the Champions League is significantly more superior, but the Europa competition is of a good standard nonetheless.
Leverkusen will throw everything but the kitchen sink at BATE and Barcelona, but if they were to endure elimination and finish third, it would not be a disaster. Instead, Leverkusen will become one of the major favourites to claim the Europa League.
Previous three expeditions in European competitions
2012-13 Europa League: In the group stages, Leverkusen faced competition from Metalist Kharkiv (Ukraine), Rosenborg (Denmark) and Rapid Wien (Austria). The German outfit qualified for the group stage comfortably with 13 points. When it came time for the knockout stages, Leverkusen were knocked out 3-1 on aggregate by Benfica.
2013-14 Champions League: Leverkusen’s return to the Champions League saw them drawn against Manchester United, Shakhtar Donetsk and Real Sociedad. Despite fierce competition, Leverkusen concluded the group stages in second with 10 points but once again exited in the round of 16, this time enduring a 6-1 aggregate humiliation at the hands of Paris Saint Germain.
2014-15 Champions League: Leverkusen finished second in a group that featured Monaco, Zenit and Benfica. Leverkusen were stopped in their tracks at the last 16 stage, defeated by Atletico Madrid 3-2 on penalties; heartbreak for Roger Schmidt and his men.
For five consecutive seasons, Leverkusen have bowed out in the knockout stages. The number 16 must not be popular among the Leverkusen faithful.
Past European accolades
Leverkusen have emerged victorious once in a European final throughout their 111-year tenure. The major triumph occurred in the 1987-88 UEFA Cup (now the Europa League).
Bayer Leverkusen reached the 2001-02 Champions League final where they experienced sheer heartbreak, falling 2-1 to one of the greatest Real Madrid outfits of all time. Who could forget the spectacular match-winning goal scored by French legend Zinedine Zidane, arguably the greatest goal in Champions League history.
The two achievements mentioned above are the only Leverkusen European cup final appearances to date. Although the BayArena outfit failed to taste Champions League success, it is regarded as one of Leverkusen’s vast accomplishments.
Leverkusen has what it takes
Leverkusen possess a squad with exceptional qualities. On paper, one sees a rich list of players capable of achieving success in any shape or form.
In the enthralling 4-4 draw with Roma, Leverkusen were two goals down with a measly six minutes remaining. The points appeared to be sealed for Roma, until two new Leverkusen signings in Kevin Kampl and Admir Mehmedi struck gold to earn their side a vital point. Later that week, the German side trailed 3-1 against VfB Stuttgart, before surging back for a 4-3 victory.
The only aspects Leverkusen are missing is consistency and five-star performances from the likes of Karim Bellarabi and Hakan Calhanoglu. Roger Schmidt’s men have outplayed opponents in at least nine of their 12 domestic outings, yet they have suffered five defeats. In the Champions League they have mustered one win, two draws and have lost twice – the two losses came from narrow one-goal deficits away to Barcelona and Roma respectively.
Bellarabi has engineered just four goals and four assists so far this campaign, well below par in contrast to his heroics in the season prior. Calhanoglu has also struggled with one goal and one assist in a domestic sense. Both players have been more effective in the Champions League, however.
It goes without saying that Javier Hernandez has been exceptional at his new home, surpassing all expectations and endearing himself to the fans. Hernandez and Mehmedi have netted four times each in the Champions League; both will be essential up forward if any success is to be achieved this tenure.