The latest installment of Bundesliga-Premier League rivalry takes place on the banks of the Rhine today when Bayer 04 Leverkusen attempt to block Manchester United’s path through to the round-of-16 of the UEFA Champions League.
Victory for United in the Group A clash would seal a spot in the knockout rounds with a match to spare and leave Leverkusen scrapping with Shakhtar Donetsk for second place.
While the clash of the national teams at Wembley Stadium in London last week showed Germany were a cut above England internationally, Premier League clubs have done better in this season’s duels in Europe.
United beat Leverkusen 4-2 at Old Trafford, Chelsea crushed Schalke 04 home and away, Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund shared a win apiece, while Bayern Munich beat Manchester City.
Leverkusen have turned the BayArena into a fortress, winning their past eight Champions League group games there, and will seek to redress the balance for the Bundesliga against a United side not firing on all cylinders, despite a marked improvement in results since a poor start to the season.
They are one point behind United in Group A and victory would put them in the driving seat, although a draw would actually send both clubs through to the round-of-16 should Shakhtar suffer a surprise loss at home to Real Sociedad.
That is unlikely to be the game plan of either Leverkusen coach Sami Hyypia or United manager David Moyes.
Leverkusen are unbeaten in 13 home matches, while United are enjoying a 10-match unbeaten streak in all competitions, even though their mood was soured by conceding a late equalizer in a 2-2 draw at Cardiff City on Sunday.
“The team is at a very good level at the moment and the trend is upward,” Leverkusen’s Stefan Kiessling told the club’s Web site. “It would be great if it could continue like that. Manchester is a decisive game for us, it is a home game and it will be fun to be playing on the day.”
United defender Rio Ferdinand was equally upbeat.
“We want to finish the job, get it done early, so we can get back to the Premier League and have nothing else distracting us,” Ferdinand told United’s Web site.
Both managers have selection headaches.
Leverkusen are without winger Sidney Sam after he limped off with a thigh injury four minutes into their 1-0 victory at Hertha BSC at the weekend.
United will be hoping Robin van Persie and Phil Jones (both groin injuries) and Nemanja Vidic (concussion) recover in time, while Marouane Fellaini is suspended.