Bayer Leverkusen face the not inconsiderable task of facing Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League this week, needing a win to keep alive their hopes of progressing from Group D.
bundesliga.com highlights five reasons why Peter Bosz’s men can do the business against the side from the Spanish capital.
1) Leverkusen outplayed Atletico away
Hold fire on the “but” forming on your lips as you read that – there is obviously no denying Leverkusen’s 1-0 defeat in Madrid at the end of October. However, Die Werkself’s all-round performance certainly deserves plenty of credit.
They had 60 per cent of possession away from home, managed 12 shots compared to Atleti's six against one of the meanest defences in Europe, made more passes (616 to 414) and did so more accurately (83 to 75 per cent).
Bosz’s charges were excellent against Atletico but – just as in their game against Lokomotiv Moscow - Leverkusen came unstuck after failing to convert their dominance into clear cut chances and subsequent goals that would have clinched vital points.
"I think with the kind of football we played today, we deserved more than just going home empty handed," the Dutch tactician said after the game. "We were very aggressive and very compact, but that final pass in the final third was missing - the most difficult pass in football. It didn't come to us today, so we had too few chances on goal and couldn't score."
2) Volland is Germany’s most lethal attacker
Alongside Timo Werner, Kevin Volland is the sharpest-shooting German around. The 27-year-old's goal in the 2-1 defeat to Borussia Mönchengladbach at the weekend was the 22nd goal Volland has been involved in over the course of the 2019 calendar year.
Why is that significant? Well, if form is temporary and class permanent, Volland is very much a tailored-three-piece-suit kind of forward, having scored consistently for some time now. Werner (14 goals, eight assists) needed a hat trick of both goals and assists in Leipzig's 8-0 demolition of Mainz to pull level with Volland (13/9), who is well ahead of the likes of Marco Reus (12/3) and Serge Gnabry (9/7).
That kind of incision and ruthlessness in the final third is exactly what will be required against an Atletico side that has conceded just seven times in 12 La Liga assignments this season.
3) Sound the Alar-io bells!
Should Volland not be able to find a way through a notoriously stubborn Atleti rearguard, Leverkusen do have a very reliable Plan B. Step forward, Lucas Alario.
The Argentinian striker has two Bundesliga goals and an assist from five league starts so far this season, and showed his game-changing ability during the recent international break. With the Albiceleste 2-0 down to Germany in Dortmund, the 27-year-old stepped off the bench in the 62nd minute and almost single-handedly inspired a comeback to a 2-2 draw.
He would score for his country again four days later and, including that star turn against Germany, Alario has four goals and two assists to his name in seven games for club and country. Should his rich vein of form continue against Atletico, Leverkusen will be in with a great chance of turning their Group F campaign around.
4) Can Atleti handle Bosz ball?
Around this time last year, Atletico crumpled under the impact of a young, attack-minded team able to play on the counter when they slumped to a 4-0 defeat against Borussia Dortmund.
There is arguably no better blueprint for success for Leverkusen, who can play in a similar manner. Dortmund were aggressive in the tackles that day, refusing to shirk any challenges and their quick, talented attackers simply proved too much to handle.
Leverkusen will need the likes of Julian Baumgartlinger and Jonathan Tah to set the tone in the physical side of their game, while relying on Kai Havertz, Karim Bellarabi, Nadiem Amiri, Alario and Volland to do the damage with their pace and ruthlessness.
“Peter's brand of football suits a lot of our players," said Bayer sporting director Rudi Völler the arrival of the coach that took an inexperienced young Ajax side to the final of the 2017 UEFA Europa League. "They're young, fast, good on the ball and naturally inclined to get forward. Peter's shown what he can do with those qualities. And that's the kind of football we want to build on."
5) Saul better call for back-up
Midfield battles often decide matches and this meeting again provides the prospect of an intriguing head-to-head between Saul Niguez and Havertz. Saul typically plays in a deep-lying central midfield position, intercepting, tackling and launching counter-attacks.
Watch: Havertz under the tactical microscope
He did not face Havertz in Leverkusen’s last trip to Atletico, a 0-0 draw in March 2017, as the Bayer prodigy was given time off to concentrate on his school exams. And in the first game a fortnight ago, Havertz showed why he is one of the finest young attacking midfielder in Europe.
The 20-year-old did what he does best and avoided the attention of Saul by gliding between Atleti's lines. Should he do so again at the BayArena, while also adding that Midas touch that has made him a full Germany international, then his side will be in pole position to pick up what would be a vital victory..
Havertz scored 17 Bundesliga goals last season and has made a promising start to this campaign too, with two Bundesliga goals and one assist. Can his elusive movement leave Saul calling for assistance?