Although Bayer Leverkusen are already assured of top spot in UEFA Europa League (UEL) Group H, it would be foolish to assume boss Xabi Alonso will allow his men to take their foot off the pedal as they seek to win all six group games in a UEFA competition for the first time ever.
Making history has been the theme of the campaign for the Bundesliga leaders, who have yet to taste defeat after 22 competitive outings (W19, D3). Leverkusen are unsurprisingly the only team across Europe’s traditional big five leagues to boast an unbeaten record this season, and they will be bidding to make that 23 games against Molde, a seemingly likely outcome given Leverkusen’s 100% record against Norwegian opponents (W5).
Further bolstering their claims is the fact that Leverkusen are unbeaten across each of their last five UEL home games (W3, D2). That doesn’t bode well for Molde, who have lost nine of their last 14 European away games and could only manage a fifth-place finish in the 2023 Eliteserien, which would have meant they would have no European involvement next season.
Yet in a fortunate plot twist, Molde guaranteed their place in next season’s UEFA Europa Conference League (UECL) by lifting the NM Cup after a 1-0 win against Bodø/Glimt last weekend. As far as this season is concerned, Molde are guaranteed springtime European football in some capacity, which is set to be in the UECL unless they can better Qarabag’s result as they host Häcken on the final day.
But coming into this on the back of a six-game competitive unbeaten run, the travelling Molde faithful shouldn’t let their outsider status quell their optimism before kick-off.
Players to watch: Leading the way for Leverkusen in the UEL with four goals is Victor Boniface, the last two of which were match openers. Also with four UEL goals in the bank, Molde’s Kristian Eriksen has hit a brace in both of his scoring appearances. In fact, Eriksen is something of a continental connoisseur, with six of his last seven competitive strikes coming in European competition.
Hot stat: All but one of Leverkusen’s 22 competitive games this season have featured goals in both halves.