Claiming a single victory in their last six domestic matches, Bayer Leverkusen hopes to turn their fortunes around against the formidable Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Round-of-16 Champions League matchup on Wednesday at BayArena.
Leverkusen have slipped to sixth in Bundesliga, but in years past have been able to block out their struggles in Germany and perform well on the sport’s biggest stage.
This is the fourth trip to the knockout stage in the last five tournaments for Leverkusen, and manager Roger Schmidt said his side his capable of moving on to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2008.
"The group stage was tough, but in this round even stronger opponents await. Atletico have a great mentality. Nobody likes playing against Atletico,” Schmidt told reporters Tuesday. "If we get a good result tomorrow, everything is possible for the second match.
The runner-up to crosstown rival Real Madrid in last year’s all Spanish final, Atletico Madrid have won three of their last four La Liga matches, including a 4-0 drubbing over Real.
Rojiblancos will roll out star forwards and leading scorers Antoine Griezmann and Mario Mandzukic, a duo that’s combined for 26 goals six assists, with midfielders Koke, Gabi and Arda Turan assisting 17 goals so far this season.
Atletico Madrid is certainly favored to notch the victory and walk away with at least one away goal, with Leverkusen surrendering nine goals in their last three matches, but midfielder Tiago stated he and his teammates aren’t looking past the “dangerous” German side.
"There are no easy games anymore," Tiago said to BBC Sport. "They attack with a lot of men and they're very dangerous. I'm sure we're going to suffer but hopefully, we can advance to the next round."
Indeed, Leverkusen will counter with scoring midfielders Karim Bellarabi and Heung-Min Son, who have accounted for 17 goals and five assists this term, with forwards Josip Drmic and Stefan Kieling lurking up top.
Kickoff Time: 2:45 P.M. ET
TV Channel: Fox Sports 2
Prediction: Atletico Madrid over Bayer Leverkusen, 2-0