Bayer Leverkusen will aim to become the first team to beat Union Saint-Gilloise at home in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League quarter-final clash on Thursday.
Xabi Alonso is doing a fine job at Bayer Leverkusen and the Spanish legend will be aiming to take a giant leap towards European glory when he welcomes Belgian side Union Saint-Gilloise to the BayArena on Thursday night.
Die Werkself last won the competition in 1988 when they overturned a 3-0 deficit over Spanish side Espanyol in the final. It remains the lone continental trophy in the club’s history and they are just five wins away from adding to the tally. The last time Leverkusen got past the last eight stage in Europe was in their 2001/02 campaign where they made the final of the Champions League.
Leverkusen started off their European campaign in the UEFA Champions League, finishing third in Group B behind FC Porto and Club Brugge. They then got the better of AS Monaco in the playoff before humbling Hungarian side Ferencvaros in the round of 16.
Given some of the teams left in the fray, Saint-Gilloise on paper is a favourable draw for the Germans. The Belgians last made it to a European semi final in 1959-60 when they lost to Birmingham City in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup semi final.
Neither side can consider themselves European heavyweights but have had memories of the continent that they will be keen for a new generation to experience. Alonso has not just steadied the ship at the BayArena but has also brought back hope to a side that are currently sixth in the Bundesliga table. Winning the competition will earn the club a spot in next season’s Champions League. It should help accelerate their development and maybe even keep some of their best players.
Saint-Gilloise were in the Belgian second tier just two seasons ago and are currently exceeding expectations in the Europa League. Owned by Brighton & Hove Albion’s Tony Bloom, the Belgian side will be keen to follow a similar trajectory as the Seagulls in recent times.
They are also in with a shot to overtake RC Genk at the top of the league standings and are in a solid run of form. While Leverkusen represents a solid challenge, this could very well prove to be Saint-Gilloise’s time to shine. Having defeated a high-flying Union Berlin earlier in the campaign, Saint-Gilloise could yet spring a surprise or two.
The Hard Tackle takes a look at how both sides could line up on the night and what tactics they might employ.
Team News & Tactics
We are ready for @EuropaLeague! 💪
🔜 #B04USG I #Bayer04 I #UEL pic.twitter.com/MMpIPChktd
— Bayer 04 Leverkusen (@bayer04_en) April 12, 2023
The Germans have enjoyed a new lease of life since Xabi Alonso replaced Gerardo Seoane last October and are firmly one of the Bundesliga’s best teams in recent months. They defeated the reigning Europa League holders Eintracht Frankfurt in the league last weekend and will go into the game with renewed confidence.
Alonso’s men also overturned a first-leg deficit in the knockout rounds against AS Monaco and have built up a defiant quality about them. They will go into the tie as favourites and will be keen to take a giant leap into the semi-finals with a solid first-leg showing at home.
The home side have a slew of injury concerns with Kerem Demirbay, Nadiem Amiri, Patrik Schick, Andrey Lunev and Charles Aranguiz. More so, both Piero Hincapie and Adam Hlozek are nursing a hip injury and an illness, putting their participation on the night into question.
A 3-4-1-2 formation has worked wonders for Leverkusen this season and should once again be the go-to formation on the night. Lukas Hradecky should start in goal behind the back three of Odilon Kossounou, Jonathan Tah and Edmond Tapsoba.
Jeremie Frimpong will be out to attract more suitors on the right flank ,with Mitchel Bakker coming in for the injured Hincapie in the left-wing back’s spot. The duo will depend on the solid foundation provided by the double pivot of Robert Andrich and Exequiel Palacios to push forward.
The prodigious Florian Wirtz should don the number 10’s role with Sardar Azmoun and Moussa Diaby leading the line. The trio can be a handful on their day and should make life difficult for the visitors.
Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Hradecky; Kossounou, Tah, Tapsoba; Frimpong, Andrich, Palacios, Bakker; Wirtz; Azmoun, Diaby
Unlike Bayer Leverkusen, Saint-Gilloise have little injury concerns of their own and should travel to Germany with a fully-fit squad at their disposal. Karel Geraerts will hope to keep his side’s unbeaten away run in the competition going and also secure a second Bundesliga scalp this season.
Union Berlin have been impressive all campaign and beating them is certainly not a joke. The Belgians have certainly proven that they belong in the last eight but face arguably their sternest challenge yet this season in Leverkusen.
In line to win a first Belgian Championship since World War II, Saint-Gilloise are just two points off RC Genk in the standings and arrive at the BayArena in good form. They have also scored eight goals in four away games in the Europa League with the trip to Berlin seeing them find the back of the net thrice.
Confidence will certainly not be lacking and Geraerts will be unlikely to adopt a safety-first approach on the night. A 3-5-2- formation appears to be the tune for the day with the midfield in particular having to play a key role in getting the tone.
🚌 Next stop: Leverkusen! pic.twitter.com/DKwV0MTH9g
— Royale Union Saint-Gilloise (@UnionStGilloise) April 12, 2023
Anthony Moris should start in between the sticks with a back three of Ismael Kandouss, Christian Burgess and Siebe Van der Heyden. Bart Nieuwkoop and Loic Lapoussin will be deployed as wing-backs going up against Bakker and Frimpong respectively.
Senne Lynen will start in central midfield and will be tasked with cutting off service to Wirtz. He should be flanked by Lazare Amani and Teddy Teuma in an effort to use numbers to assert midfield dominance.
Victor Boniface and Simon Adingra will lead the line as they seek to cause another upset in the competition. Leverkusen will need to be alert and not let the duo run amok amidst their back three.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Moris; Kandouss, Burgess, Van Der Heyden; Nieuwkoop, Amani, Lynen, Teuma, Lapoussin; Adingra, Boniface
- Bayer Leverkusen and Union Saint-Gilloise have never gone up against each other in a competitive setup.
- Bayer Leverkusen are unbeaten in their last three games against Belgian opposition, failing to find the back of the net in two.
- Union Saint-Gilloise have faced off against German sides six times before. Four of them came against Union Berlin earlier this season, with the Belgians getting the better of their Bundesliga opponents in the tie.
- A win on the night will see Bayer Leverkusen win four straight games in Europe for the first time since 2020.
- A clean sheet on the night will see Bayer Leverkusen keep three straight shutouts in Europe for the first time since 2012.
- Union Saint-Gilloise and Manchester United are the only two teams in the competition who have played from the group stages and are yet unbeaten away from home, a run of four games.
Player to Watch
🎙️ #Diaby: „There is a good atmosphere in the team. Everyone is very concentrated and focused. The game will not be easy, #USG is a good team and they are a strong opponent. We are ready and looking forward to the game.“
#B04USG | #UEL I #Bayer04 I #Werkself pic.twitter.com/VAKStTgany
— Bayer 04 Leverkusen (@bayer04_en) April 12, 2023
The Bayer Leverkusen star has four goals and one assist in the UEFA Europa League this season, the most of any player for the Bundesliga side. The 23-year-old is a real handful on his day and has taken his game up a notch under Alonso. With several clubs keeping an eye, the time is ripe for the French ace to add more goals and assists to his tally.
With Bayer Leverkusen set to play the second leg away, they will be well served to take a healthy lead from the BayArena. As long as Diaby is feeling it on the night, there is no reason why that cannot be the case.
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Union Saint-Gilloise
Bayer Leverkusen have several players missing and with it comes a certain challenge. Alonso has won the Champions League with both Liverpool and Real Marid, not to mention numerous other honours with Spain and Bayern Munich.
He will know what it takes to get a club over the line and that winning mentality should show on the night. It promises to be a close game with the home side just nicking it with a solitary strike. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-1 win for Xabi Alonso and his charges.
Hmmm. I pray that this score prediction comes through for Bayer Leverkusen. The away team seems to be a threat.