Bayer 04 Leverkusen's 3-0 victory over RC Deportivo La Coruña was one of the surprise results of the second group stage of the UEFA Champions League and the German side face the return fixture in Spain knowing that they might need another victory against these opponents to secure a place in the quarter-finals.
Things are tight in Group D and it could be, if Leverkusen and Arsenal FC both win their away games on Wednesday, that three teams tie at the top with ten points. That being so, Leverkusen would take top spot and Deportivo would fill second place.
Deportivo are definitely through regardless of Wednesday's results, though they need a draw to guarantee first place. If Leverkusen better Arsenal's result away to Juventus FC then they go through but if both sides lose or both draw then the German team would miss out and Arsenal would follow Deportivo into the last eight.
Last weekend Klaus Toppmöller's side beat Vfb Stuttgart 2-0 to record their first away win in seven attempts. Late first-half strikes from Thomas Brdaric - scoring his first 1. Bundesliga goal of the season - and Dimitar Berbatov safeguarded Leverkusen's one-point advantage over BV Borussia Dortmund at the head of the table. Berbatov's goal was his fourth in seven games and the young Bulgarian is making a big impact at the club.
Leverkusen triumphed despite having Oliver Neuville and Ulf Kirsten on the bench and Carsten Ramelow suspended. Michael Ballack was back after flu. "It was our first victory away in the league for four months," Toppmöller said, "and it was also the first time that, after a Champions League match, my team has been able to record a more or less comfortable victory. With the Deportivo game coming up, that gives me a good feeling. I was satisfied with the way my team played. We gave Stuttgart no possibility and no chances."
Last weekend Deportivo, whose away victory at Highbury on Matchday Eleven follows wins at Manchester United FC and Real Madrid CF this season, won on their travels again, beating Club Atlético Osasuna 3-1.
Diego Tristán struck a hat-trick in the first 32 minutes as Javier Irureta's side showed that their qualification for a UEFA Champions League quarter-final place for the second successive season has not swayed them from their league ambitions. They lie in third place in the Primera División and have cut the deficit behind joint leaders Madrid and Valencia CF to two points.
In touch with top two
The win was especially satisfying for Irureta who as a coach had never managed to win in Pamplona. Six previous visits had produced three draws and three defeats. "We played a good first half again," he said, "but as the game wore on, the pitch got heavier and heavier and made it more difficult to play the ball. But the result is important as it reconnects us with the teams at the top."
Irureta is likely to make some key changes for Wednesday's game after admitting that the priority is "the next matches in the championship, and the first-leg match in the Champions League quarter-finals".
Brazilian Emerson has missed training because of stomach pains and defender Lionel Scaloni and midfield player Víctor Sánchez are suspended. Spanish defender Héctor Berenguel will play at right-back with Joan Capdevila on the left. Roy Makaay will take the place of Víctor and Djalminha should come in for Juan Valerón.
'We will try our best'
Referring to the threat of Leverkusen, Berenguel said: "They are playing a great season, and are currently top in the Bundesliga. Furthermore, we must be very careful because for them the match will be decisive for qualification. Deportivo always enters the field to win the match, so we will try our best."
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