Down a goal on aggregate, Atletico Madrid will try to climb back into Champions League contention versus Bayer Leverkusen in the second leg of their Round of 16 matchup Tuesday at Vicente Calderon Stadium.
Diego Simeone’s side fell 1-0 when the two sides met in the first leg on Feb. 25, with Leverkusen midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu powering through a right-footed strike off Karim Bellarabi’s assist in the 57th minute and the defense nixed any chance of Madrid scoring an away goal for the all-important tiebreaker.
Considering they have one of the best attacking outfits in La Liga, one would think the loss would be demoralizing. However, Los Rojiblancos believe in their abilities to come back and make the quarterfinals for the fourth time in the last five years.
"We don't think about anything else (other) than turning around the tie on Tuesday," Madrid defender Jesus Gamez said to Marca. "We know it's going to be difficult but our enthusiasm is big.
"We suffered in Leverkusen but this is a beautiful challenge. This is a great test in front of our home fans and we will all pull together to achieve it."
The confidence might be there, but the first leg letdown did bleed into La Liga, with Madrid winless in their last three matches.
The match was also marred a bit after midfielder Tiago was sent off in the 76th after earning his second yellow card, and he’ll certainly be missed in Tuesday’s critical match up, as will defender Diego Godin due to suspension.
Calhanoglu’s brilliance in the match also can’t be understated, and the Turkish 21-year-old has shown why such clubs like Arsenal and Barcelona have taken a liking to him.
However, Leverkusen manager Roger Schmidt told reporters his side is built well enough beyond Calhanoglu and that they must stay focused at the task at hand.
"The result in the home tie was positive but we haven't done anything yet," Schmidt said. "Hakan is one of 11 players and our strength is the whole team. On Tuesday we will try to play as a team. We were not favourites before the first match and now we can only think about the next 90 minutes.
"Atletico are still favourites and we have to make a big effort. We know Atletico are a strong side at home and a team with a strong mentality. We must keep cool heads, try to keep possession and look for quick counterattacks, like we did in our stadium.
Leverkusen are hoping to advance beyond the first knockout phase for the first time since 2008, when they fell to Zenit 4-2 on aggregate.
Kickoff Time: 3:45 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Fox Sports 2
Prediction: Atletico Madrid over Bayer Leverkusen, 2-0