By Mark Bennett
Unless he decides to field three strikers in both legs of Bayer 04 Leverkusen's next UEFA Champions League fixture against Liverpool FC, coach Klaus Augenthaler runs the risk of disappointing someone.
Thus far the former German international has remained resolute in his choice of a 4-4-2 formation but he is well aware of the strength of the options that he has at his command. "I have got three great strikers available in Dimitar Berbatov, Andriy Voronin and França."
Who to select to lead the line may have troubled the coach during the final weeks of Germany's winter break. "It what they call a luxury problem," he said. "It is hard on one of the three players, but for me it is a great situation because I have the chance to react to injuries and lack of form."
The coach has got three very good strikers available and the competition up front is good for all of us," Berbatov told uefa.com. "I try to do my best in training every day and it is for the coach to decide who plays. Andriy and França are quality players and I am happy that they are in the squad."
Both França and Voronin have had their share of first XI action this season, but Bulgarian international Berbatov has been very much the preferred choice, as the only one of the trio to have started all 17 of Leverkusen's Bundesliga matches and all six of their Champions League ties.
However, Augenthaler's faith in the 23-year-old - a veteran of Klaus Toppmöller's near-legendary 'Neverkusen' squad of 2001/02 - has been justified. Eight goals in the Bundesliga and three in Europe, including vital away goals against Real Madrid CF and AS Roma, have been proof of his good form.
While Berbatov's name has been the first one on the team-sheet all season, the question of who should partner him has been a more difficult one. Berbatov himself insists that he has no preference. "That is for the coach to decide," he said. "I like playing with both França and with Andriy."
França started the season as first choice but an ankle injury picked up in Leverkusen's 3-0 Champions League win against Madrid in September took its toll. The 28-year-old scored against Madrid and again in the 3-1 Matchday 3 win against Roma but seemed to have lost some of his sharpness following the injury.
As his form dipped in the autumn, the 25-year-old Ukrainian international Voronin - a free summer transfer from relegated 1. FC Koln - seized his opportunity. A hat-trick in a 3-2 win against DSC Arminia Bielefeld in his first Bundesliga start provided a major statement of intent.
Voronin has scored eight goals in the Bundesliga this season as well as two in the Champions League - both against his boyhood heroes FC Dynamo Kyiv. "The coach said he would give me a chance and that all I had to do was give it my best shot when I got the chance to play," said Voronin.
As the winter break began, Voronin was holding on to his place in the starting lineup, but with a few weeks off to recover, Augenthaler will be hoping that França returns from his holidays with renewed determination. Two strikers on form are a must for success in the last 16. Three could be the key to the final.
©UEFA.com 1998-2016. All rights reserved.