Were Leverkusen to complete three consecutive Champions League wins, however, they would stand in an excellent position to qualify alongside the hitherto unbeaten Manchester United FC.
Their last European win was a marker, vanquishing Shakhtar 4-0 at the BayArena thanks to Stefan Kießling's brace, but in the imposing Donbass Arena, Sami Hyypiä’s men are under no illusions as to the size of the task at hand.
“They’ll be doubly motivated after the 4-0 reverse,” said goalkeeper Bernd Leno. “They’re very good going forward, and we’ll have to give everything to pick up a result.” Shakhtar might not have beaten a Bundesliga side at home in over 30 years, but midfielder Lars Bender was refusing to read anything into the history books: “Shaktar are very, very strong at home.”
'Vital game for the club'
Leverkusen could perhaps have been criticised for underestimating their most recent opponents, Eintracht Braunschweig, who beat Hyypiä’s troops 1-0 on Matchday 11 of the Bundesliga. “We’ve got to be better defensively against Shakhtar,” bemoaned Leno after the loss. It wasn’t just defensively. Resting the star triumvirate of Heung Min Son, Kießling and Sidney Sam, who provided three of the four goals in the home leg, was an experiment which backfired spectacularly.
The other goal on that memorable night was hit by Simon Rolfes, whose penalty made him the first Leverkusen player in over thirteen years to score in three successive Champions League games. “This will be much harder than the home tie,” said the club captain. “We can’t rest on our laurels, they put up lots of resistance last time and it’s a vital game for the club as a whole.”
'Closer to a target'
One of Rolfes’ fellow midfielders Stefan Reinartz didn’t travel to the Ukraine with the squad, and neither did Leno’s understudy Andres Palop. Beyond their absences though, Hyypiä has a full-strength squad to choose from for a game he describes as, “definitely different to two weeks ago”.
It is likely that Hyypiä will learn the lessons from the Braunschweig defeat for this crunch tie,. After all, the former Champions League winner needs no reminding of what is at stake. “A win here would take us closer to a target which has been written in huge letters all season.”
FC Shakhtar Donetsk: Pyatov - Srna, Kucher, Rakytskyy, V. Shevchuk - Hübschman, Fernando - Douglas Costa, Bernard, Ilsinho - Luiz Adriano
Bayer 04 Leverkusen: Leno - Donati, Toprak, Spahic, Boenisch - L. Bender, Rolfes, Castro - Sam, Kießling, Son
Check out Leverkusen's South Korean maestro Heung Min Son's top five strikes in the Bundesliga, exclusive to the official Bundesliga YouTube channel: