Preview : Bayer Leverkusen v AS Monaco – Champions League

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Monaco travel to the BayArena this evening in the very definition of a dead rubber. Both teams are assured of progression, but they are also locked into their respective places in the table. It was an unlikely outcome given the presence of Tottenham Hotspur in their group, but both have displayed an impressive proclivity for playing on the counter. While Bayer have been less than impressive in the league, Monaco have been Ligue 1’s most dominant side, and sit three points off a Nice side who have lost just once, showing no ill effects due to rotation.

Case in point – Monaco played a slightly rotated side on Saturday against Bastia, but still managed to hammer the Corsican side 5-0, Radamel Falcao getting a brace and an assist. The Colombian could start up top alongside Valere Germain, who came off the bench, but is more likely to be rested to give Guido Carrillo a chance. On the right, Nabil Dirar could make his first start since returning from injury. On the opposite flank, Gabriel Boschilia is a candidate for the eleven after Thomas Lemar’s exertions on Saturday, while Adama Traoré or Joao Moutinho could similarly replace one of Tiemoué Bakayoko or Fabinho in central midfield.

In defense, Benjamin Mendy had looked a potential miss, but looks set to feature at left back, with Almamy Touré reprising his star turn from the weekend on the opposite side, having played 90 minutes against Bastia. Veteran Italian Morgan de Sanctis will replace Danijel Subasic in goal, while Kamil Glik will probably make way for youngster Abdou Diallo in central defence. With nothing to risk, Leonardo Jardim was expansive about the prospect of such an inexperienced side being given their chances in European competition, “…young players will be given a chance to shine in the Champions’ League tomorrow evening. It’s a great opportunity for these players to show what they can do at the highest level.”

Leverkusen’s Roger Schmidt has been a bit less casual, and revenge and a positive result ahead of Germany’s long winter break are on his mind. “It’s about time we beat Monaco. We were incredibly unfortunate to lose to them twice in last season’s group stage, (sic) and we were unlucky to only get a draw from our last match against them. We want to focus on our game and get a positive result in front of our fans.” The manager will counter Jardim’s 4-4-2 with one of his own, although injuries are more of a concern with Kevin Volland, Kevin Kampl, Lars Bender, Karim Bellarabi and Admir Mehmedi unavailable and Omer Toprak and Jonathan Tah both doubts.

Bernd Leno is a given in goal, with Benjamin Henrichs and Wendell the fullbacks. If Toprak can pass a late fitness test, he should be favored to start alongside Austrian international Aleksandar Dragovic, while youngster Kai Havertz could be in line to get his first start in European competition in place of Mehmedi on the right wing. Central midfield should see Charles Aranguiz partner Julian Baumgartlinger, with Julian Brandt on the left. Javier Hernandez has struggled this season, but will likely partner Hakan Calhanoglu, the pair’s movement making up for their lack of physical presence in the absence of Volland and Stefan Kiessling.

Tactically, we should expect an open match, with two sets of relatively young players eager to impress in an unexpected European start. Bayer enjoy pressing opponents high up the pitch, but the inclusion of Moutinho in midfield is likely to be a boon to the visitors as Monaco can then link play in a more composed fashion than with the likes of Bakayoko and Fabinho.

Predicted XIs:

Bayer Leverkusen (4-4-2): Bernd Leno; Benjamin Henrichs, Omer Toprak (or Tin Jedvaj), Aleksandar Dragovic, Wendell; Kai Havertz, Charles Aranguiz, Julian Baumgartlinger, Julian Brandt; Hakan Calhanoglu, Javier Hernandez

AS Monaco (4-4-2): Morgan De Sanctis; Almamy Touré (or Andrea Raggi), Jemerson, Abdou Diallo, Benjamin Mendy; Nabil Dirar, Joao Moutinho, Adama Traoré, Gabriel Boschilia; Valere Germain, Guido Carrillo

Predicted Score:

Bayer Leverkusen 1-3 AS Monaco

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