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Wednesday, 16 January, 2019

Leverkusen can land a handy advantage

Javier Hernandez is in good form for Leverkusen
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Champions League last-16 first leg
BT Sport 3, 7.45pm Tuesday

Bayer Leverkusen have played some of their best football on Champions League nights and that trend could continue with the German side capable of posting a first-leg win at home to Atletico Madrid in the last 16.

Atletico have won their last three round-of-16 ties, including a shootout success over Leverkusen in 2015 after drawing 1-1 on aggregate.

Leverkusen dug out a 1-0 victory in the home leg two years ago and would probably settle for something similar as they attempt to make the quarter-finals for the first time since they reached the final in 2002.

They have been inconsistent in the Bundesliga and are seven points outside the top four with 13 matches left. But confidence is on the rise after back-to-back wins at home to Eintracht Frankfurt (3-0) and away to Augsburg (3-1) which have just about kept their Champions League qualification hopes alive.

Javier Hernandez has helped himself to four goals in the last two matches, taking his league tally to ten, and is set to top the club's scoring charts for the second successive season.

The Mexican has been less effective in the Champions League – scoring once in six appearances – but is playing at the top of his game and is 6-1 to open the scoring against Atletico.

Hernandez is well supported in a vibrant, youthful attack featuring Germany Under-21 winger Julien Brandt and talented 17-year-old attacking midfielder Kai Havertz, who has excelled in recent games.

Head coach Roger Schmidt has shown he is not afraid to blood his younger players and has struggled to find game-time for experienced target man Stefan Kiessling – a club legend participating in his 11th season at the BayArena.

Given the youthful nature of Leverkusen side featuring 21-year-old centre-back Tin Jedvaj and 19-year-old right-back Benjamin Henrichs, it is perhaps understandable they have struggled to be consistent.

But they showed themselves to be a very dangerous side in the Champions League group stage, taking four points off Monaco and Tottenham and finishing top of a very competitive section.

They will have to show nous as well as ability to get the better of Atletico, who are effective at finding ways to win tight matches.

Diego Simeone's side have reached the final in two of the last three seasons and showed all of their defensive strength and counter-attacking prowess in the group stage to finish three points above Bayern Munich.

However, they have not been higher than fourth in La Liga since October and may be slightly weakest than usual in defence without rock-solid Uruguayan centre-back Diego Godin, who misses out with a groin injury.

Godin was ever-present as Atletico conceded just two goals in the group stage. He may be fully recovered in time for the second leg but his absence this evening could allow Leverkusen to establish a precious first-leg lead.

Bayer Leverkusen draw no bet
1pt 11-8 Paddy Power

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Team news
Bayer Leverkusen
Hacan Calhanoglu is banned and Jonathan Tah (hamstring) has been sidelined for the last three weeks.

Atletico Madrid
Diego Godin (groin) remains sidelined and fellow injured players Juanfran and Tiago have not travelled.

Key stat
Leverkusen have lost one of their last 12 Champions League home matches.

Javier Hernandez has helped himself to four goals in the last two matches, taking his league tally to ten, and is set to top the club's scoring charts for the second successive season
E.W. Terms
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