Ballack and Sam celebrating a goal in the Bundesliga / PHOTO: BUNDESLIGA.DE

FC Barcelona’s rival in the last-16 of the Champions League is a team with a lot of history. A classic European team. Finalist in the Champions League 10 years ago and champions of the UEFA Cup in 1987/88, Bayer Leverkusen have made it a habit of finishing in the top spots of the Bundesliga year after year. Last year they finished second in Germany and they are currently in sixth place, eight points adrift of the leaders, Bayern Munich.

Extremely good away from home in the League

Curiously enough, Bayer Leverkusen, managed by Robin Dutt, have managed to have a better record on the road than at home. Away from the BayArena they have only lost two games out on nine played, it’s the second best record away from home in the Bundesliga. In the Champions League group stages, on the other hand, they lost in England to Chelsea (2-0) and in Spain to Valencia (3-1), and drew with Genk (1-1).

At home it has been completely different story: Irregular in the League (only three victories from seven games) and excellent in the Champions League, three wins.

Ballack the reference point

One name rises above the others in Bayer’s current roster: Michael Ballack. One of the best European midfielders of the past decade, Ballack is living out the twilight of his career in Leverkusen. He isn’t a permanent fixture in Robin Dutt’s starting lineups, but he is the reference point for the team that boasts two shining midfielders, Bender and Sam and the always dangerous strikers: Derdiyok, Schürrle and Kiessling.

Another important player for the team is René Adler. It was hoped that the keeper would be the cornerstone for the German national side, but injuries have played a constant role in his career. Unfortunately, an injury to his right knee has kept him off the field all season, and Bernd Leno has been Leverkusen’s starting keeper ever since.

Three previous games against Barça

This will be the fourth time Barça will face Leverkusen in Europe. Up until now, the balance between both sides is equal. In the 1987/88 season the teams played against each other in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup, with a 0-0 draw in the away leg –the game was played in Cologne– and a 0-1 at the Camp Nou, the Germans qualified for the next round at Barça’s expense. In the final, Leverkusen beat Espanyol in the final and were crowned UEFA Cup winners.

Since then, the teams faced off against each other two more times. The first was a decade ago when Bayer Leverkusen reached the final of the Champions League and lost to Madrid, Barça and Leverkusen were paired up in the group stages together; both teams won their home games 2-1.

The teams met once again a year later, in the 2002/03 season. That time, it was Barça that came out on top with two victories: 1-2 in Germany and 2-0 at the Camp Nou.

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