Bayer Leverkusen host Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad on Thursday evening at the BayArena in a dead rubber group A game in the UEFA Europa league. Leverkusen and FC Zurich both lead group A on 9 points while AEK Larnaca and Ludogorets are on 2 points, all from 4 games played. Whatever happens Bayer and Zurich have qualified while Larnaca and Ludogorets are exiting the tournament at the group stage.
Over their last 10 games in all competitions, Leverkusen have won 5, drawn 2 and lost 3. They are a fairly high scoring side with 2.3 goals scored per match over that period whilst also averaging 1.6 goals against. Their form in the German league has been patchy as they are closer to relegation than the top of the table.
Bayer are 12th in the Bundesliga with 14 points from 12 games played and are only 5 points above relegation compared to 16 points off Borussia Dortmund at the top of the table. They were in real danger of getting into a relegation scrap until matchday 12’s 2-0 win over Stuttgart ensured they put a bit of distance between them and the teams below them. Leverkusen’s Europa league’s fortune has been much better with 3 wins and a loss away at FC Zurich.
Ludogorets Razgrad gave everything to keep their knockout qualification hopes alive on matchday 4 against AEK Larnaca, finishing the game with 19 attempts on goal but ultimately ended the game goalless in a 0-0 draw. Larnaca goalkeeper, Tono, was equal to everything thrown at him. In the Bulgarian Championship, Ludogorets are leading the pack with 41 points from 16 games and have only lost once all season in the league. They have 5 wins and a draw in their past 6 games.
The 7-time Bulgarian champions are still purring in the league despite the departure of erstwhile coach Paulo Autuori in early October. His assistant Antoni Zdravkov has stepped up to replace him and the team has not broken stride in the league. Ludogorets boasts several Brazilians on their payroll and are arguably playing the most attractive football in the Balkans but Europe has been a completely different kettle of fish with 2 points taken in 4 games and qualification entirely ruled out. This is a game with nothing at stake for them but honour.
Ludogorets have lost none of their last 5 away matches and possess a winning streak in the previous 3 away games. The first time these two teams met was on matchday 1 of the Europa league this season. Leverkusen’s Kai Havertz was the hero scoring a brace in a 3-2 winner for Bayer.
Leverkusen are still without Tin Jedvaj, Joel Pohjanpalo and Thorsten Kirschbaum through muscle, ankle and thigh injuries respectively. Pohjanpalo is not expected to return to the squad until the new year. The key players for Bayer are Lucas Alario, Karim Bellarabi and Kai Havertz. Havertz has 3 goals and 3 assists in the competition.
Ludogorets CM Anicet Andrianantenaina Abel suffered a knee injury in early April and remains out till January. Their key players are Claudiu Keseru, Gustavo Campanharo and Wanderson. Wanderson has 2 goals and 3 assists in the competition.
With nothing except top spot to fight for in the group, Leverkusen may want to focus on improving their position in the Bundesliga and hence struggle to fire on all cylinders in this game. Ludogorets are without a win in this group and will seek one here. Still, a draw looks likely.