Bayer Leverkusen host Union SG in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final clash on Thursday evening. Union SG are aiming to reach the last four of a European competition for the first time since losing to Birmingham City in the semi-final of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1959-60, while Leverkusen have not progressed beyond a quarter-final since finishing as runners-up in the 2001-02 Champions League final.
Leverkusen appear set to be without Kerem Demirbay, Nadiem Amiri, Patrik Schick, Andrey Lunev and Charles Aranguiz due to injury, while Alonso will also be sweating over the fitness of Piero Hincapie (hip) and Adam Hlozek (illness).
Hincapie was withdrawn late on during Leverkusen’s 3-1 win against Frankfurt at the weekend, while Hlozek was not involved at all. Should the former miss out as would seem likely given the short turnaround between fixtures, Mitchel Bakker is likely to be preferred to Daley Sinkgraven at left wing-back.
Azmoun could replace Adli in attack, meanwhile, with Jeremie Frimpong continuing to provide the bulk of the hosts’ width from his penetrating role down the right flank.
Union SG, on the other hand, may travel to Germany with a fully-fit squad at their disposal, meaning that Geraerts is free to select what he considers to be his strongest starting XI.
In the previous round, the 20-time Belgium international utilised a 3-5-2 formation, so it seems likely that he will continue with this in order to roughly match up against Alonso’s preferred system during his time at Leverkusen.
That would mean Simon Adingra and Victor Boniface forming a dangerous pair in attack, as they aim to hit their more adventurous opponents in transition as quickly and often as possible.
Bayer Leverkusen possible starting lineup:
Hradecky; Kossounou, Tah, Tapsoba; Frimpong, Andrich, Palacios, Bakker; Wirtz; Azmoun, Diaby
Union SG possible starting lineup:
Moris; Kandouss, Burgess, Van Der Heyden; Nieuwkoop, Amani, Lynen, Teuma, Lapoussin; Adingra, Boniface
Prediction: Bayer Leverkusen 3-1 Union SG
While we expect Union SG to pose Leverkusen with plenty of headaches across the course of this encounter, the Germans have become a consistent outfit during Alonso’s reign, and we believe that they will head to Saint-Gilloise with a healthy lead to protect in the return leg next week.