One of the most fun matches in the first leg of this round of the Champions League was the 1-0 win Bayer Leverkusen earned over Atletico Madrid. It was, of course, highlighted by Hakan Çalhanoğlu's incredible goal, but the entire match was well-fought by both clubs in terms of tactics and technical skills displayed.
Now, it's time to decide which of these two sides get to go to the quarterfinal, and that's not going to be an easy task. Atleti and Bayer are two very good sides well-deserving of taking that next step, but only one can. History would seem to favor the Spanish side, as Leverkusen have yet to move past this round in this version of the Champions league, including three very heavy aggregate defeats in this stage over the last 10 years. Roger Schmidt will be eager to undo that history, though, and pulling the wool over the eyes of Diego Simeone in the process would be a nice bonus.
Both teams are a little dinged up right now, but it's Atletico Madrid's two suspended players that will hurt the most. Defender Diego Godin and midfielder Tiago are both out, Godin because of yellow card accumulation and Tiago thanks to getting sent off in the first leg of the tie. Midfield rotation regular Saúl Ñíguez is also out with a back injury, while primary left back Guilherme Siqueira is a doubt and missed Atleti's last match with a hamstring injury.
Leverkusen have just one player guaranteed to be out -- mostly-reserve forward Robbie Kruse -- but their two questionable players could prove to be a big miss if they can't play. Midfielder Lars Bender is the driving force of Bayer's midfield, the thing that makes them go, but he has a nagging ankle injury that might slow him down. Tin Jedvaj and Emir Spahic are both in doubt, and while neither has been spectacular this season, missing both of them would be a problem.
Projected lineups (left to right)
Atlético Madrid (4-2-3-1): Miguel Moya; Cristian Ansaldi, Miranda, Jose Gimenez, Juanfran; Mario Suarez, Gabi; Antoine Griezmann, Raul Garcia, Koke; Mario Mandzukic
Bayer Leverkusen (4-2-3-1): Bernd Leno; Wendell, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Emir Spahić, Giulio Donati; Lars Bender, Gonzalo Castro; Heung-Min Son, Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Karim Bellarabi; Josip Drmić
Hakan Çalhanoğlu vs. Atletico's set piece defense -- While Çalhanoğlu scored in open play in the first leg, the Turkish midfielder's specialty is in set pieces. Both in terms of direct shots and service for others to utilize, Çalhanoğlu is one of the best dead-ball specialists around right now. He has the ability to dictate this match, and if Atleti want to keep control, their best course of action is to avoid surrendering set pieces at all costs.
Karim Bellarabi vs. Cristian Ansaldi -- With Guilherme Siquira likely to be either out or not at 100%, this match is a good chance for Bellarabi to have some fun. Ansaldi isn't a bad left back by any means, but his irregular playing time means that he's not likely to be in the greatest of form, something that can be taken advantage of. If Bellarabi can keep Ansaldi on the back foot, that could give Bayer a clear road to an away goal or two.
Koke & Griezmann vs. Wendell & Donati -- If Bayer have one clear weakness or deficiency in their side, it's their fullbacks. It's not that Wendell, Sebastian Boenisch, Guilio Donati or Roberto Hilbert are poor players by any means, they're just not up to quite the same standard as the rest of the squad. As it happens, Atleti have a lot of quality out wide, and that's the matchup that they'll be aiming to exploit to overcome the first-leg lead Bayer have.
This is an extremely even-looking game that should see the home field advantage to Atleti, but only just giving them an edge. This feels like it will end as a 2-1 win for Atletico, which would see Bayer Leverkusen advance.