BERLIN, Nov 25 (Reuters) - For a club used to falling at the final hurdle, Bayer Leverkusen occupy a dominant position in Champions League Group C before taking on Monaco in their penultimate game in the section on Wednesday.
A point will be enough to carry them through to the knockout stage with one match to spare and a win would ensure they finish top of the group.
The club nicknamed ‘Neverkusen’, for repeatedly going close and missing out on silverware, have been particularly effective in Europe this season.
After an opening defeat by Monaco despite dominating and missing a bagful of chances, the Germans have reeled off three straight victories to top the group on nine points, leaving their French rivals in second place on five.
With the addition of Karim Bellarabi and playmaker Hakan Calhanoglu this season, Leverkusen have added considerable punch to their attack and the striker has been rewarded by a Germany call-up.
Leverkusen’s 3-1 victory on Saturday over Hanover 96 was their first in three Bundesliga games and there was more good news with Stefan Kiessling on target for the first time since August.
“To win 3-1 going into this week is a boost, no doubt,” said scorer Gonzalo Castro. “Now we have big games ahead of us.”
With Castro and captain Simon Rolfes coming back last week from long injury breaks, coach Roger Schmidt will have more options to play in his trademark attacking style.
“That can only work if everyone works together,” Schmidt said. “It is a challenge to do it every four games but against Hanover we stayed focused and disciplined and we did it well.”
Monaco, on the other hand, have struggled in Ligue 1 and are looking over their shoulders in Europe.
A 2-2 draw against lowly Caen on Saturday left them eighth in the league, 11 points adrift of leaders Olympique Marseille.
“The team has two big problems,” frustrated coach Leonardo Jardim said. “A lack of efficiency because we create chances but score too few goals, and an average mentality.”
Monaco, who have failed to score in five of their last six Champions League away games, know a lack of goals will prove costly on Wednesday. (Editing by Tony Jimenez)