Champions League 2015/16 profiles: Bayer Leverkusen
Bayer Leverkusen are 13/2 with Coral to upset the odds in the Champions League and top Group E which contains 2014/15 winners Barcelona.
The German side has never won the modern day competition, however they reached the final in the 2001/02 season where they narrowly lost to Real Madrid in a 2-1 defeat.
Ironically, that year, they also drew Barca in their first pool of the competition, qualifying for the second group stage (as was the format then, before a last 16 stage was implemented) as runners-up.
Domestic League: Bundesliga
How they qualified: Leverkusen qualified via the play-offs, with a comfortable 3-1 aggregate victory over Lazio, having finished fourth in the German league last season.
Best Champions League era performance: The season they reached the final (2001/02) they had some great results, but none stands out more than the quarter-final second leg against Liverpool, which they went into needing to better their 1-0 defeat at Anfield.
While Michael Ballack restored the deficit, an Abel Xavier goal just before half time for the Reds swung the game back in the visitors’ favour.
However, Leverkusen stormed out of the blocks in the second period, with Ballack and Dimitar Berbatov netting within four minutes of each other. This rollercoaster of a match wasn’t over, though, as Jari Litmanen made it advantage Liverpool, before this dramatic match was settled six minutes from time when Lucio grabbed the winner.
Coach: Having won the Austrian league with Red Bull Salzburg in the 2013/14 season, Roger Schmidt was seen as the perfect candidate to take over from previous manager Sami Hyypia in April 2014.
Ins and Outs: Bayer, by and large have had a successful transfer window, and despite selling striker Son Heung-Min to Tottenham for a healthy fee, they brought in Javier Hernandez, Kevin Kampl, Charles Aranguiz and Kyriakos Papadopoulos to name a few.
Familiar faces: English fans will recognise Hernandez, who secured a £12m move before the transfer window closed and has scored eight goals in the Champions League both for Manchester United and while on loan at Real Madrid last season.
Key Player: Accomplished striker, Stefan Kiessling has been a mainstay in this team for quite a while and is considered somewhat of a club legend having scored 152 goals in 375 appearances.
Standing at six foot plus, Kiessling is a defenders’ nightmare, and can also contribute with assists, proven by 66 he’s laid on for teammates.
Ones to watch: Literally take your pick. This is a squad littered with talent and shouldn’t be underestimated, though the all-action box-to-box midfielder Lars Bender puts himself about with a lot of the play going through him.
Also keep an eye on Christoph Kramer, who was a late inclusion to start the World Cup final for Germany last year after an injury to Sami Khedira minutes before kick-off. The 24-year-old makes the team tick, sitting just in front of defence and launching attacks.
Emerging talent: Attacking Turkish talent, Hakan Calhanoglu (21) is one of the best, emerging set-piece takers in Europe and also knows where the goal is in open play.
Promising goalkeeper Bernd Leno at 23, is seen as a potential successor to Manuel Neuer in the national team and was the subject of interest from Real Madrid in the summer, though he needs to really show what he can do on the big stage.
CL Group and fixtures:
V FC BATE Borisov (Home) September 16th
V FC Barcelona (Away) September 29th
V AS Roma (Home) October 20th
V AS Roma (Away) November 4th
V FC BATE Borisov (Away) November 24th
V FC Barcelona (Home) Decmeber 9th