Roger Schmidt takes Bayer 04 Leverkusen to Barcelona as group leaders this evening. Can they take a point or three off the depleted European Champions?
Die Werkself are once again in good form, winning their last two Bundesliga matches without conceding. More importantly, Schmidt has a near full strength squad to be able to pick from, something which cannot be said for his counterpart Luis Enrique.
Tonight's hosts beat Las Palmas 2-1 at the weekend, with Luis Suarez netting a brace, but Lionel Messi went off after ten minutes with a knee injury that will sideline him for at least six to eight weeks. On top of that, Barça are already missing Thomas Vermaelen and Rafinha, while several of the rest of the squad are off form and look tired. Goalkeeper Claudip Bravo is fit again, as is Jordi Alba, although it's unlikely that Bravo will play tonight, as Marc-Andre ter Stegen is their Champions League goalkeeper.
In terms of replacing Messi in the lineup, Luis Enrique will presumably call upon wonderkid Munir El Haddadi. The Spanish international came on for his stricken teammate in the weekend win, and he would seem the obvious choice unless Enrique changes his system. He could perhaps select Andres Iniesta in the front three, although that would seriously weaken his midfield, and that could cause them serious problems against the likes of Bender, Kramer and Kampl.
I honestly think there is a slight chance of Leverkusen taking at least a point from this game. If they can shackle Iniesta and Neymar in particular, then the pace of Karim Bellarabi and Javier Hernandez, along with the vision and shooting ability of Hakan Calhanoglu, could cause their hosts serious problems.
If I'm being honest, and letting head rule, then I'd probably say Barça will triumph 3-1, maybe going two up before Leverkusen get a goal back. However, the longer the game remains goalless, the home fans would get tense and restless, and that pacy counter attack at Schmidt's disposal could be decisive. I certainly don't see a repeat of the 7-1 from a few season ago!