Since Atlético Madrid last played Bayer Leverkusen, a lot has changed for the Germans, as they sacked Roger Schmidt after a 6-2 thrashing by Borussia Dortmund, and have not won since hosting Atleti. Their last match was a 1-1 draw with lowly Werder Bremen who are hovering just above the relegation playoff in Germany, and to make matters worse for Bayer, in that match Omer Toprak missed a 90+3’ penalty.
On current form, it seems as if Bayer Leverkusen may be without any European football of any kind next season, so that could provide motivation for them in this match to prolong their run. However, the injuries have piled up for Bayer, with Lars Bender, Jonathan Tah and Omer Toprak all likely to miss out through injury, leaving the Germans particularly weak at the back. Highly touted full back prospect Benjamin Hendrichs will also miss out through suspension.
Atleti, meanwhile, have started to hit their stride, despite not winning their two La Liga matches following the first leg of this R-16 tie. The loss to Barcelona was by no means embarrassing, and the draw at La Riazor against a resurgent Deportivo was unusual for many reasons. After those two matches though, an impressive 3-0 win against Valencia and a hard-fought 1-0 win against Granada has inspired confidence, despite previous false dawns coming throughout the season. Against Bayer, this is exactly the sort of match that Atleti can handle, as both the team and the manager are adept at holding on to a lead, unlike a certain French club.
Gabi and Filipe Luis are both set to miss out against Bayer, both suspended, though Gabi is also still recovering from a hand injury. Both are hugely important players for Atleti, however it provides further opportunities for Lucas Hernandez and Thomas Partey, and both have impressed when they’ve been included in the squad.
Antoine Griezmann has hit his best patch of form this season, after a difficult period at the start of the season, where he was clearly worn down after a long 2016 period with Atleti’s Champions League and the Euros. And though an earlier burst of goal scoring form for Griezmann could have prolonged an Atleti title challenge, hitting form at this stage in the season helps toward Atleti’s only hope of silverware this season, the Champions League.
Winning this match isn’t a necessity, losing 2-0 is acceptable, as Atleti would still progress on the away goals rule, however unless Bayer suddenly rediscover the great attacking form they had under their now former manager and can cope with major misses in defense, it seems extremely unlikely. This tie is tricky, but not precarious, Atleti hold a major advantage with four away goals, and should be able to maintain a result for 90 minutes. Simeone will have the team well drilled for what will be a tough match, and one where Atleti will have numerous opportunities on the counterattack with Bayer pushing the tie, which plays right to Atleti’s strengths. Atlético hold all the cards in this match, and should progress to the quarterfinals.