Bayer 04 Leverkusen believe the return from suspension of central defender Jens Nowotny can give them the security they need to go in search of the two-goal victory against Liverpool FC which will take them through to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League.
Statistics, however, would suggest otherwise: in 16 home games in the competition, Klaus Toppmöller's side have only managed three clean sheets. One thing is certain: a more finely-balanced tie than tonight's quarter-final is hard to imagine.
Leverkusen know that after losing the first leg 1-0 they cannot afford to concede a goal against the English club, which is why the return of their reliable defender is so important. The Leverkusen defence were not seriously troubled by Michael Owen and company at Anfield, but the Germans know that with his pace and Emile Heskey's strength, the English team pose arguably an even greater threat away from home. "They are probably the best strikers in Europe in terms of counterattack," conceded Reiner Calmund, the Leverkusen director.
However, the German team are in upbeat mood, which has probably been helped by a run of five home games with an aggregate return of 17-0 as much as having Nowotny back. "We need to be patient," said Toppmöller. "Making it 1-0 in the 90th minute would be all right for us. This would take us into extra time or a penalty shoot-out and we can always make it then. If we knock Liverpool out of the competition this would mean a real sensation. And I do think it looks good that we will."
Even though Leverkusen have lost Carsten Ramelow to suspension just as Nowotny returns from one, the 1. Bundesliga side will feel more confident about attacking Liverpool with numbers, knowing they have Nowotny and Brazil's first-choice central defender, Lucio, behind them. Both are capable of holding their own in most one-on-one situations, though the blistering pace of Owen does pose a special threat.
'Six days to prepare'
Since the onus will be on Leverkusen to score, it is unlikely they can afford to defend as deep as they did at Anfield which should be to the English team's advantage. As for Liverpool, they are well versed at soaking up pressure, as 15 away games in Europe across four years without defeat prove. Unlike Leverkusen, they also have just had the benefit of a free weekend. "In the second half against Leverkusen we may have tired a little," explained Stéphane Henchoz, "so now we have had six days to prepare for the second leg."
Aside from last year's UEFA Cup final victory in Dortmund's Westfalenstadion, Liverpool have only ever managed to win once in Germany - 29 years ago - but a draw is all they need on this occasion and there are few clubs in the world better at grinding out goalless draws away from home than Gérard Houllier's side. No fewer than eight of their Champions League games this season have finished this way, which has resulted in some heavy criticism for the Liverpool manager. Even the great Franz Beckenbauer was critical of their performance last week, saying "you could hardly tell which side was at home".
'Winning is pretty'
Houllier is not too bothered, though. "I have told my players they must be doing something right because they are annoying people with their success," he said. "When I hear people saying this or that about us, I just point out how we won three trophies last season and finished third in the league. We scored 127 goals in 63 games which was the third highest total in the club's history. I hope we continue to attract criticism like that every year...Other teams can keep the ball, I'd rather keep the result. I'll tell you what's pretty, winning is pretty!"
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