Villarreal v Bayer Leverkusen: Brandt eyes final
Bayer Leverkusen winger Julian Brandt gave a confident assessment of the club's chances of securing a place in the Europa League quarter-finals by beating Villarreal.
After a stunning second-half fightback saw Leverkusen come from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 with Augsburg in the Bundesliga, Brandt spoke of the team spirit and confidence that he believes will hold them in good stead over two legs against La Liga’s fourth-placed side.
The comeback halted a run of two consecutive defeats, and Brandt told Bayer 04 TV: "Particularly when things aren't going so well and we're under pressure from the media, coming back from 3-0 down shows the great spirit in the squad. It was a good response.
"As a player you ask yourself if a game is already lost, but we thought we had a chance to get back into the game somehow. It's not the first game where we've come back from being behind, and it does give us a boost before the Villarreal game.
"We don't need to hide in the Europa League. We won pretty convincingly against Sporting Lisbon. If one or two of the injured players are back, we'll head to Spain full of confidence."
He added: "A goal and a draw would be good for us. We'd be happy with that, as we're at home in the second leg. I think we're relatively relaxed and we’ll hopefully put on a good result.
"I don't want to talk about the final, but it’s not out of sight and we’re up for it."
Leverkusen will be without defender Roberto Hilbert for both legs of the tie, after he broke his collarbone in a 4-1 defeat to Werder Bremen, but centre-back Kyriakos Papadopoulos may return as he nears his recovery from a joint problem.
Villarreal go into the game on the back of a disappointing run of just one win in their last five games.
The Spanish side are without influential midfielders Samuel, who has a fractured metatarsal, and Jonathan dos Santos, who is recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon, but striker Leo Baptistao is confident of the strength in depth at Estadio El Madrigal.
He said: "The whole team is fine. We have few losses and we can make rotations. We have a big squad.
"We're very focused to confront a great team like Leverkusen. The first match is crucial in a tie.
"We will try to find their weaknesses and we have been working on that."