bundesliga.com looks ahead to the potentially decisive Group C encounter…
Zenit are unbeaten in the competition so far this term, having won one and drawn the other to sit a point above Roger Schmidt’s Leverkusen side in the standings. With away fixtures in the continent’s elite club competition notoriously difficult, die Werkself need a victory at home - like the 3-1 win over Benfica at the start of October - to bolster their chances of reaching the knockout rounds.
Simon Rolfes (ankle) and Gonzalo Castro (knee) are the only definite absentees for the hosts, while Sebastian Boenisch is doubtful as he feels his way back from a heel injury. Midfield dynamo should be fit to make the starting XI after Schmidt said his chances of recovering from a knock “looked good”.
The visitors could be without Oleg Shatov at the BayArena as the diminutive midfielder is suffering from muscular complaints. However, Belgium international Axel Witsel (pictured) should make the starting XI after shaking off ligament damage sustained on international duty last week.
Crucial to Leverkusen’s high-pressing strategy is , who recently earned his maiden cap for Germany in the EURO 2016 qualifiers. The 24-year-old demonstrated his ability and eye for goal once again at the weekend, scoring Bayer’s third in their 3-3 draw with Stuttgart to take his tally to four for the season.
Zenit boast a particularly menacing frontline and Brazilian forward Hulk, who opened the scoring in his side’s 2-0 win away to Benfica on Matchday 1, is the focal point of attacks. The 28-year-old’s physical prowess is one of his main assets and he will be a handful for centre-backs Ömer Toprak and Emir Spahic to deal with.
, Leverkusen striker: "Zenit are a strong team, we’ll need to be at our best. We’re in a good position and want to win all of our home games especially."
Andre Villas-Boas, Zenit coach: "Our two matches against Bayer could be decisive so we’re going to try to take a good result home from Leverkusen."
Leverkusen have stumbled in recent outings and are without a win domestically in almost a month having drawn their last three consecutive league games. Zenit lead the Russian championship but likewise come into the game on the back of three straight stalemates, the most recent of which was a 2-2 draw away to FC Krasnodar.
The teams met for the first time in the quarter-final stage of the UEFA Cup in April 2008. Leverkusen lost the first leg 4-1 at home - with Kießling on target for the hosts - and although die Werkself won the return fixture 1-0, it was eventual-winners Zenit who progressed to the last four of the competition.
Leverkusen: Leno - Jedvaj, Toprak, Spahic, Wendell - Reinartz, L. Bender - Bellarabi, Calhanoglu, Son - Kießling
Zenit: Lodygin - Smolnikov, Garay, Lombaerts, Criscito - Witsel, Javi Garcia - Hulk, Shatov, Danny - Rondon