The knockout phase of the Champions League begins, and all four German clubs are still in the running. Bayer Leverkusen faces Paris St Germain and Bayern come up against Arsenal this week.
“It doesn't matter whether you have to play a third-tier team at home or Paris Saint-Germain - the preparation and the players' mindset have to be the same,” Bayer Leverkusen head coach Sami Hyypia said ahead of Tuesday's fixture. Leverkusen, in second place on the Bundesliga table, host the team of multimillionaires from the French capital in the first leg.
PSG are not only among the top earners in professional football - they are also the some of the most talented. They are led by star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic (pictured above), who describes himself as the best player in the world.
Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Völler has described his team as the underdog and warned its defense to be on its guard.
In Leverkusen's favor is that PSG coach Laurent Blanc will have to make do without three of his top players will: Edinson Cavani, Zoumana Camara and Christophe Jallet. Uruguayan striker Cavani, who joined Paris for 64 million euros ($88 million) last European summer, will be sorely missed. “So Bayer Leverkusen will focus completely on Zlatan Ibrahimovic,” was Blanc's prediction. “But my other players can score goals too."
Arsenal host Bayern
Neuer, Lahm, Boateng, Schweinsteiger, Müller, Kroos, Götze, Mertesacker, Özil, Podolski, Gnabry: It is the list of Germany national team players that could be on the pitch on Wednesday in London. The first seven are part or the Bayern squad, the other four play for Arsenal.
The opening leg may be the first challenge in a long time for Bayern Munich, which leads the Bundesliga by an impressive margin. Bayern have not lost one of their last 46 games. But Arsenal was the opponent who almost eliminated Bayern from the Champions League competition last season. Then under Jupp Heynckes, Bayern lost 2-0 at home to Arsenal in the second leg of the quarterfinals.
“We know we can beat them,” Arsenal's Germany international defender Per Mertesacker said ahead of the match. “And we are in better shape this year than last. We want to achieve something special this year, that is why we have to beat the best,” he continued.
Indeed, Arsenal is stronger than they were last year. After all, they now have Mesut Özil. The Germany international with Turkish heritage arrived from Real Madrid for 50 million Euros last European summer.
Özil says he is looking forward to the challenge of playing Bayern. “...I also have a lot of respect for the Bayern tem, they are even stronger than they were last year,” he said. “But we will keep our heads high. Everything is possible in those two games.”
The Bavarian club, on the other hand, is well-prepared. Coach Pep Guardiola rested most of his stars in last Saturday's league win over. Now his team is raring to go for what it sees as the first real challenge of the season.
“We are really looking forward to this. We really need a good result in London, against a team we know is very strong on the offense,” Bayern captain Philip Lahm said.
“It will be a duel of equals,” goalkeeper Manuel Neuer predicted. “The Champions League is extremely important for us. And Arsenal is a big name club, we are prepared.”
“We have to push ourselves to the limit,” added Bayern's attacking midfielder Thomas Müller.
It will be a rare occasion for a Bayern team which largely manages easy wins week after week in the Bundesliga. Germany's football fans can look forward to a nail-biter.
The other two German teams in the competition will not be playing until next week, when Dortmund travels to Russia to face Zenit St. Petersburg and Schalke hosts Real Madrid.