These two sides face each other again just months after their last encounter which saw the German side prevail in a tight semi-final encounter before losing to Real Madrid in the final.
Since that tie, Leverkkusen’s form has nose-dived and they currently stand just above the relegation zone in the Budesliga anndwere thrashed 6-2 by Olympiakos in their Champions League opener last week. Shorn of Michael Ballack and Ze Roberto – both now with Bayern Munich – Kllaus Toppmoller’s side look a pale shadow of the team that delighted Germany and Europe last season with their free-flowing football.
Nevertheless, Toppmollerbelieves his side will reveal their true character at the BayArena tonight, saying: “We are the outsiders and that will be an advantage for us,” he said.
Matters are not helped by injuries to key players such as Diego Placente, Juan and Jens Nowotny, all of whom miss out tonight.
“At the moment we don’t have many options,” Toppmoller admitted. “All I can do is hope that none of the other players nursing knocks miss the game.”
Frank Juric having replaced Hans-Jorg Butt, Leverkusen’s established No1, in recent games. Neville to return Like Leverkusen,
United too have struggled this season and already lie six points off the pace in the Premier League. However their domestic troubles were forgotten when they overwhelmed Maccabi Haifa 5-2 in last week’s opener.
Like Leverkusen they are also struggling with injuries and will be without are without Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and Wes Brown tonight. In the absence of skipper Keane, David Beckham will captain the side.
More positive news could see the return of Laurent Blanc and long-term casualty Gary Neville. Neville has not played since breaking a metatarsal when the sides met last season but is understoood to be close to full fitness.
Defeat to night could be fatal for Leverkusen’s chances of progressing. United boss Sir Alex Fergsuon hwoever is taking nothing for granted.
“If you look at their record this season, you will see that they have scored first in every single match,’ he said. ‘We must avoid that at all costs.”
Juric; Zivkovic, Ramelow, Lucio; Vranjes, Babic; Schneider, Basturk, Simak; Neuville, Berbatov.
: Barthez; P Neville, Blanc, Ferdinand, Silvestre; Beckham, Veron, Butt, Giggs; Solskjaer, Van Nistelrooy.
Maccabi Haifa v Olympiakos 20:45
After conceding five at Old Trafford last week, Maccabi Haifa now face an in-form Olympiakos side who have scored ten goals in the last two games. The Greek champions followed their amazing 6-2 win against Bayer 04 Leverkusen with a 4-0 victory against Akratitos FC to go top of the Alpha Ethniki.
Haifa go into the game – played at the GSP stadium in Nicosia – with with doubts over the fitness of several key players. Israeli internationals Alon Harazi and Walid Badier are expected to miss out.
However, Lithuanian midfielder Raimondas Zutautas and Nigerian forward Yakubu Aiyegbeni return from injury and suspension respectively and coach Shum remains upbeat.
“We were without of two of our best players (against United) but they will play in the next game,” Shum said.
“I believe we have a chance and we will try to take points off the other teams.”
Despite their impressive opening day win, Olympiakos coach Takis Lemonis is taking nothing for granted.
“We really enjoyed the Leverkusen game, but must not get carried away,” he said. “If anything, our concentration has to be better. You cannot underestimate Maccabi simply because their players are not such big names.”
Lemonis rested Giorgios Anatolakis, Paraskevas Antzas, Dimitrios Eleftheropoulos and Christian Karembeu at the weekend, but all are included in the squad for tonight’s match.
Lambros Choutos is ruled out through injury. The Greeks welcome back Nigerian striker Ayegbeni Yakubu after suspension.