Bayer were a part of the biggest storyline of the weekend in Europe, but not in the way they’d hope. They went up 1-0 within the first minute over surprise upstarts RB Leipzig only to fall 3-2 to send the newly promoted side to the top of the Bundesliga. It’s a familiar feeling for Leverkusen, who have a talented squad, yet too often fail to capitalize on opportunities to pick up three points. While they’re in 9th in the Bundesliga, they sit in second in their group in control of their own destiny after beating Spurs last time out 1-0. A win over CSKA and a Spurs loss would guarantee their place in the knockout rounds. 20 year-old Julian Brandt has been the highlight of their season so far. The winger has been called into recent German national team squads and has scored in two consecutive Bundesliga matches. Naturally, there is chatter he’s on his way to Bayern. CSKA won their first match in six tries over the weekend, beating Arsenal Tula 1-0. Their Champions League hopes are still alive, but they’d need to beat Bayer, have Monaco to win out and then go beat Spurs themselves on the final matchday. Not impossible, but unlikely. No one in the squad has more than three goals.
Last season, CSKA brought the Russian Premier League back to Moscow, making it their third title in four years. They managed to do so on the back of only 51 goals, 11 of which came from their leading scorer, Ahmed Musa, who is now at Leicester City. In the Champions League, they finished bottom in a group that included Manchester United, Wolfsburg, and PSV Eindhoven, scoring five goals across six matches. While goals may be scarce, they’ll be solid defensively with Russia’s most-capped player Sergei Ignashevich, in central defense and Igor Akinfeev in goal.
Bayer are a mainstay in the top four of the Bundesliga, but have not made a deep run into the Champions League since they were runners-up in 2002. While a return to those heights is too ambitious for this squad, they are still dangerous enough to be playing late into the spring. Led by a rejuvenated Chicharito, who scored five goals in six Champions League appearances last year, and backed by a defense who only allowed 40 goals in the Bundesliga last season, this is a squad with the ability to take down some giants.
The most-capped Russian player in history with 120+ appearances.
The former Dynamo Kyiv captain scored 3 goals in the first 5 Russian Premier League matches this season.
The former Manchester United striker's career was revived upon his arrival at Bayer, where he scored 26 goals in his first season.
A lethal free kick specialist, just watch the highlight video above.