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Champions League Group E: Barca battle Bayer without injured Messi

Luis Enrique’s reigning European champions Barcelona continue the defence of their Champions League crown with a visit from Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen, but must overcome their latest clash without the mercurial Lionel Messi.

The Catalan giants were held to a 1-1 draw in their opening encounter with Serie A giants Roma, but will be confident of getting back on track against German opposition which they have lost to on just one occasion in six ever meetings since 2001.

Messi has again been instrumental so far this campaign for Barca, but they will have to do without their star man at the Nou Camp for up to two months, though the hosts are still favourites and 11/5 with Coral to win both halves.

Germany Soccer Champions League Final

Injured Argentine attacker Messi had to withdraw early in the first-half of last Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Las Palmas, with the club later confirming he had a knee ligament tear, but defender Marc Bartra has called for his team to prove its strength without their talisman.

“It’s bad news for us. Like it or not, Messi is our best player, the one who causes the most problems. I’m very sad for him,” stated Bartra. “It’s a major loss but now we have to become even stronger.”

Messi became the first player in Champions League history to net five times in a single match when Barcelona crushed a sorry Leverkusen 7-1 in the knock-out phase of the 2012/13 competition, and the home side are 10/1 to score five or more again this time out.

Bayer 04 Leverkusen vs FSV Mainz 05

Despite the talents of Messi missing from the Barca set-up, Bayer midfielder Christoph Kramer believes his side cannot afford to overlook the other attacking stars still on show at the Nou Camp, with the visitors 7/1 to cause an upset.

“Of course any team would miss Messi, but Barcelona still have a world-class team without him,” declared the Germany international. “It’s a game that we should look forward to. The team worked hard for a whole season [to play] this kind of match. We should enjoy the game and have fun.

“In football, anything is possible and we can definitely get something in Barcelona. We have to go into the game with confidence and be fully focused.”

Luis Enrique

Reported Manchester United target and set-piece specialist Hakan Calhanoglu has once again proved his worth in the Bayer set-up this season, with four goals this term, including a double in the previous Champions League win over BATE Borisov. The Turkey international is 6/1 to net anytime again in Spain.

Javier Hernandez tasted a Champions League final defeat at the hands of Barca during his Red Devils days and the Mexican marksman is 10/1 to open proceedings this time out, while Luis Suarez is 5/2 for a brace or more, as he prepares to lead the line in Messi’s absence.

Barca are aiming to become the first ever team to retain the Champions League trophy and the next step is overcoming Leverkusen, a team which their boss Enrique actually netted against in both home and away clashes during the 2000/01 group stages. The Spaniard will hope his forwards can be as deadly as he was during that time on home soil.

Betting tip: Barcelona to win both halves @ 11/5