Leverkusen - This Thursday evening (21.05 CET) sees Bayer 04 Leverkusen begin their UEFA Europa League campaign as they take on Ukrainian side Metalist Kharkiv in the Bay-Arena.

After a somewhat underwhelming beginning on the domestic front, Leverkusen now turn their attention to Europe and what could be a useful distraction from the turbulences of the Bundesliga. As well as Kharkiv, the Werkself will also face Rosenborg BK and Rapid Vienna in Group K, but with recent European experience to draw on, hopes will be high that the group phase can be negotiated..

Welcome distraction


Two losses in their first three league games may not have been the ideal start that manager Sami Hyypiä and his assistant Sascha Lewandowski had envisaged before a ball was kicked. The team surrendered a one-goal lead to lose at Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 1 and have been humbly dispatched 3-0 by champions Borussia Dortmund, with the home win over SC Freiburg slipping under the radar.

In that sense, a European fixture to distract them may be just what the players need. Hyypiä was a proud winner of the Europea League's forerunner - the UEFA Cup - with Liverpool in 2001 and the prestige of winning the trophy will not have been lost on his players. Moreover, it shouldn't be forgotten that, not so long ago, the Werkself were going head-to-head with some of Europe's best, beating the likes of Chelsea and Valencia in the Champions League.

Germany international and Bayer midfielder Lars Bender, for one, is keen for his side to produce a repeat of the performance against Kharkiv in the last 32 of the competition two seasons ago, when Bayer coasted to a 6-0 aggregate win. "We laid the groundwork in the first leg that year", said the 23-year-old. "Now we have a chance to get the campaign off to a good start in the BayArena." With one home victory already in the bag this season, fans will be less hoping for than expecting a second on Thursday night.

Possible line-ups:

Leverkusen: Leno - Carvajal, Wollscheid, Toprak, Kadlec - Hegeler, Bender, Reinartz, Schürrle, Castro - Kießling

Kharkiv: Disljenkovic - Villagra, Gueye, Pshenychnykh, Barvinko - Xavier, Edmar, Sosa, Torres - Willian, Cristaldo