LEVERKUSEN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 13: Pep Guardiola, head coach of FC Barcelona addresses the media during a press conference at the BayArena on February 13, 2012 in Leverkusen, Germany. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Bongarts/Getty Images)
The Champions League is back! Barcelona kick us off with a visit to Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen.
Have you missed the UEFA Champions League? It's been three months since the group stages came to a close, but now we're getting back into the action with the first knockout stages. Defending champions Barcelona, who are virtually out of the hunt in La Liga, are looking to retain at least their European crown this season, and their first task is overcoming Bayer Leverkusen at the BayArena.
While most teams facing Barcelona over the past few seasons would be forgiven for assuming that they didn't have much of a chance, things are rather different this year, especially away from the Camp Nou. In domestic competition, the Catalans have struggled on the road, winning just four of eleven matches, and they're coming off a discouraging 3-2 loss to Osasuna over the weekend.
Admittedly, Pep Guardiola did rest many of his star players for the Osasuna game, and they should all (save perhaps Sergio Busquets) return here. Leverkusen have injury problems of their own as well - Michael Ballack and Sidney Sam are both highly unlikely to feature - and while they've managed to beat both Valencia and Chelsea at home neither team is at the level of Barcelona.
So, just like every other European fixture in which they've played recently, Barcelona are favourites. Leverkusen are a decent team, even if they're struggling in the Bundesliga, but an on-form and motivated Barcelona regularly demolish these sorts of sides for fun. Could they manage an upset? It's always possible, but we should hardly be on alert for one tomorrow. Expect something like a 3-1 win for Barcelona to set up a routine second leg at home.
Bayern Leverkusen vs. Barcelona
Game Date/Time: Tuesday, February 14, 2:45 p.m. ET, 8:45 p.m. CET.
Venue: BayArena, Leverkusen, Germany.
TV: FSC (USA), Sportsnet Regional (Canada)
Bayer Leverkusen (4-3-3): Bernd Leno; Michal Kadlec, Manuel Friedrich, Daniel Schwaab, Vedran Corluka; Stefen Reinartz, Simon Rolfes, Lars Bender; Renato Augusto Stefan Kiessling, Andre Schurrle.
For more on Barcelona, check out Barca Blaugranes.