THE STALTERI GUIDE
Paul Stalteri spent approaching eight years in Germany and was happy to put his experience to good use by offering a few pointers ahead of our trip to take on Bayer Leverkusen on Thursday.
Paul Stalteri spent approaching eight years in Germany and was happy to put his experience to good use by offering a few pointers ahead of our trip to take on Bayer Leverkusen on Thursday.The Canadian full-back - a keen student of the game worldwide - became a fixture in the Werder Bremen side around the time that Leverkusen were making a big impact in the Champions League, reaching the final in 2002 where they fell to a 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid after defeating both Liverpool and Manchester United on the road to Hampden Park. A certain Dimitar Berbatov was a 39th minute substitute on a night when the German side took the lead through Brazilian defender Lucio.
Using his knowledge of the Bundesliga scene, Paul gives us his take on what to expect on matchday three of the UEFA Cup Group Stage.
The Bayer Leverkusen team has changed quite dramatically since they reached the Champions League final in 2002. The likes of Ballack, Lucio and Ze Roberto have long gone and they now have a young team topped up with good players like Schneider, Ramelow and the goalkeeper Butt, who has been around a long time.
Most of the team are pretty young and there have been a lot of changes over the last few years especially.
Ones to watch...
Since Berbatov left they have struggled a bit to match his goals tally, which has been a problem for them this season and they are 12th or 13th in the league right now. A couple of weeks ago they were two up against Bayern and ended up losing 3-2 so they definitely have what it takes. They can pull out results and play good football, which has always been their forte. On their day they are a tough side to beat.
Kiessling was signed to replace Berbatov and they are big boots to fill because Dimitar scored 20-odd goals for them last season. He is a talent from what I know and have heard and we will have to look out for him.
Schneider who plays on the right is always a danger from set pieces and he scores goals from midfield. He will be one to watch as well.
Over the last three or four years it has been Bayern Munich and Werder Bremen fighting for the top spot, with the likes of Schalke threatening as well. Hamburg also did well last season, but are really struggling at the moment. Stuttgart are the big surprise at the top of the table right now.
Around the time when Leverkusen reached the Champions League final they could easily have won two or three titles, but lost out in the final weeks of the season. The had a good campaign by finishing in the Uefa Cup places last season, but it is a league where other than the main teams at the top it is pretty variable and up and down below that.
Leverkusen is a small city and the stadium only holds 22,000. You have Cologne right beside it - which is massive - and one of the nicest cities in Germany. Cologne is a big attraction.
The stadium and atmosphere...
It is not the same as four or five years ago when you could not get a result there - or come within two or three goals if you were lucky sometimes. Nowadays teams can get good results there, but it is a tight arena and the pitch is the best in the league. It is a great place to play football, but very difficult if Leverkusen are on their game.
The supporters are not as fanatical as those in Cologne, Schalke or Dortmund, for example, but if the team are doing well they easily sell out the ground and could get more if they had a bigger stadium. They have a strong core of 20-odd thousand who come to every game.
The travelling fans...
They will enjoy their visit and will like going to Cologne nearby. It is coming into winter, but it is a great country to go to for a couple of days. The Germans have got thousands of beers and they are different from one city to the next - the best idea is to try the local stuff!