Manuel Veth –
Larnaca vs Leverkusen – Thursday, December 13, 20:00GMT/21:00CET – GSP, Nicosia, Cyprus
The Cypriots are out of Europa League contention after they lost their two opening fixtures against Bayer and FC Zürich and then followed that up with two draws against Bulgarian side Ludogorets. Thanks to those two draws and an unlikely victory over Zürich on matchday 5 AEK Larnaca, however, are on a run of three matches undefeated in UEFA Europa League Group A and will hope to stretch that to four as they close their campaign against already-qualified Bayer Leverkusen.
It would be a happy end for the Cypriots, who were unbeaten through three qualifying ties with Dundalk, Sturm Graz and Trenčín but then had a slow and sluggish start to the group stage campaign. In fact, it has been a campaign that somewhat reflected Larnaca’s domestic campaign.
Fourth in the standings with 19 points from ten games, Larnaca are already nine points behind league leaders Limassol – although AEK have two games in hand. A 2-0 defeat against Pafos FC on Saturday did not help their cause either, and head coach Andoni Iraola will look to quickly settle things in Europe to focus on the domestic campaign.
The same can be said for Bayer Leverkusen. Die Werkself were considered by some a club that could perhaps challenge for the league title this season. The reality, however, is 18 points from 14 games and an eleventh spot in the Bundesliga standings.
At least Bayer were able to close the gap to the European spots this weekend to just five points thanks to a 1-0 victory over FC Augsburg. Despite the victory, Leverkusen showed its usual problems in the match. “We failed to control the match and to easily gave the ball away. Thankfully, we were able to convert one of our few chances,” new sporting director Simon Rolfes criticised after the match.
Leverkusen need a win to guarantee first-place in the Europa League Group A, but at the same time, it can be expected that head coach Heiko Herrlich will use this game to rotate his side to have fresh legs for the last three Bundesliga games before the winter break. As a result, expect a game in which neither side will risk much in what will likely be a low scoring victory for Bayer.
Larnaca vs Leverkusen – Players to look out for:
Lucas Alario #13 – Bayer Leverkusen
Lucas Alario has struggled this season. Signed for €12 million from River Plate in the summer of 2017 the Argentine forward has failed to score in nine Bundesliga games this season. His record, however, has been better in the Europa League. Here Alario has scored two goals in three games (one goal every 67 minutes). The striker finally scored his first goal of the season against Augsburg on the weekend. It was an important goal that secured all three points for die Werkself. “I hope the goal will give him confidence,” Rolfes said after the match. With Herrlich likely to rotate the side Alario could be given much needed playing time that he needs to boost his confidence even further ahead of what will be two challenging weeks for Leverkusen.
Apostolos Giannou #99 – AEK Larnaca
Australian-Greek forward Apostolos Giannou will be Larnaca’s dangerman. The 28-year-old forward was signed from Chinese club Guangzhou R&F in January and with two goals and three assists in six matches was an important player for Larnaca in the Europa League qualifiers. He has since struggled a bit, however, scoring just one goal and one assist in five Europa League group stage games. The forward’s production has struggled as Larnaca were seemingly overwhelmed by the competitive nature of the Europa League.
Larnaca vs Leverkusen – Match Stats
- Leverkusen overcame AEK 4-2 at home on matchday two, three second-half goals from substitutes (two from Lucas Alario, one from Julian Brandt) carrying them to victory after the visitors had taken a first-half lead.
- This is only the German club’s second visit to Cyprus in UEFA competition, the first having come in the 1995 UEFA Intertoto Cup when they won 2-0 away to Nea Salamis Famagusta.
- AEK’s only previous fixture at home to German opposition does not hold happy memories as they succumbed 0-5 to Schalke in the 2011/12 UEFA Europa League group stage – the club’s heaviest home defeat in Europe.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Larnaca vs Leverkusen – 0-1
Larnaca vs Leverkusen – Lineups
Tono – Ioannou, Gonzalez, Truyols, Igor Silva – Larena, Garcia – Giannou, Hevel, Barrera – Taulemesse
Head Coach: Andoni Iraola
Özcan – Wendell, Dragović, Tah, Weiser – Aránguiz – Bailey, Paulinho, Alario, Schreck – Kiese Thelin
Head Coach: Heiko Herrlich
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.