Despite FC Barcelona's vast array of individual talent, it is the European champions' collective strength that most concerned Bayer 04 Leverkusen coach Robin Dutt after the teams were drawn together in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.
The challenge of taking on Josep Guardiola's side may be daunting, but Dutt is clearly relishing the task awaiting his charges in the knockout phase. "As a player and coach, you spend your whole life wanting to compete with the best," said the 46-year-old. "The main characteristic of Barcelona is that although they have lots of stars, they perform as a team."
The German tactician added that being drawn at home for the first leg will give them the upper hand as Leverkusen attempt to eliminate the reigning champions at the last-16 stage for the first time since 2006/07. "It is an advantage for us to play the first match at home. Barcelona have not won five of their 16 league matches. It is those matches we will examine closely."
Leverkusen chief executive Wolfgang Holzhäuser drew some altogether different positives from being paired with the Spanish outfit. "How can we beat them? I have no idea, but we have one big advantage. We do not have to scout Barcelona; everyone knows their strengths. I do not know a coach who knows their weaknesses, though."
The 2002 finalists, Leverkusen qualified as Group E runners-up and will host the holders on 14 February before the return leg at the Camp Nou on 7 March, with the clubs meeting for the first time since Barcelona won both encounters during the 2002/03 UEFA Champions League group stage.
The Werkself would rather recall their 2001/02 campaign, when they matched Barcelona in the group stage – winning 2-1 at the BayArena and going down by the same scoreline in Spain – before losing out to Zinédine Zidane's spectacular volley for Real Madrid CF in the final. Back in 1988, meanwhile, Leverkusen eliminated Barcelona from the UEFA Cup quarter-finals in the sides' first meetings.
Barcelona topped Group H with an unbeaten record, but technical director Andoni Zubizarreta warned that they should not take Leverkusen lightly. "I really like German football," he explained. "It is always very competitive; their teams never give up and are never afraid of any rival. It will be a wonderful tie."
Barcelona president Sandro Rosell added: "When you get to the last 16 of this tournament, you have to be prepared, and we would have been fine with whoever we got at this stage. We have been in a very positive mood lately. It was better that we avoided teams from eastern Europe for the length of the trips and the cold weather at that time of year. We have been drawn against Leverkusen and that is just fine because every team has their pros and cons."
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