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Motivation not a problem for Friedrich

At 32, Manuel Friedrich is enjoying his belated first season in the UEFA Champions League and cannot wait for his Bayer 04 Leverkusen side to take on holders FC Barcelona.

Manuel Friedrich in training on Monday
Manuel Friedrich in training on Monday ©Getty Images

Bayer 04 Leverkusen centre-back Manuel Friedrich says there are two ways his side can look at their tie against FC Barcelona, but whatever the approach, motivation will not be lacking.

Leverkusen are competing in the round of 16 for the first time since 2004/05, and they could have hardly asked for a tougher test on their return to the knockout phase. Playing the European champions is a test that excites Friedrich, though. "There are two reactions you can have to the draw," he said. "On the one hand, 'oh no!', and on the other hand 'that's great'. In my eyes they are the best team in the world, so what better draw could you get?"

The 32-year-old former German international has come to UEFA Champions League football late – his three appearances in the group stage were his first at this level – and says Leverkusen are "very happy to have such as high-profile" draw. "Everyone sees us as complete outsiders. I think that is normal when you play against Barcelona, because they just are the best team. So we're looking forward to the two games."

There is, however, a tinge of regret about how they finished their autumn European fixtures – a climax which led to their non-seeding in the last-16 draw. "We did very well in the group stage, apart from the last game." Leverkusen were held 1-1 at KRC Genk in their final Group E tie when a win would have made them pool winners and help them avoid the likes of Barcelona at this stage.

Nonetheless, there are no fears at going up against one of Europe's top sides. Leverkusen defeated Chelsea FC on matchday five to secure their progress, and Friedrich is confident in his team's ability to mix it with the best. "We went behind to a Didier Drogba goal but we got a second wind. We realised we could get a point, then we scored," said Friedrich, who scored his side's late winner that night. "We may have been satisfied, but then we said 'what the heck, we have nothing to lose'. We put in even more effort and ended up winning."

For Barcelona, the game plan is simple. "We should have respect, but not too much. You just have to look forward to the challenge, give everything, run until you need to see a doctor and then see what comes from that." Friedrich says "every football player dreams about measuring himself against the best players in the world", motivation enough on top of the incentive of getting Leverkusen to the last eight for the first time since they made the final in 2002.

"Our manager doesn't have to say anything to us about this," added Friedrich, who joined from 1. FSV Mainz 05 in 2007. "I mean everyone knows their players, everyone knows the club and everyone knows how they play. You don't have to get motivated for a game like that or be in the right mind."

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