The romance of European football takes centre stage on a day of people coming together and celebrating relationships. However, there will be little love shown between these two ambitious clubs.
Rovers travel to the Rhine to play Bayer Leverkusen in their family friendly Bay Arena Stadium. Both sides have been decimated in recent weeks by injuries and key players won`t be available to affect the outcome of this first leg.
Leverkusen have a poor record against English opposition, recording just two wins in fourteen ties, a record they will be looking to rectify against Rovers, who have never faced German opposition in their fledging European history.
Mark Hughes will be hoping his troops can influence the game sufficiently to ensure that they are still in with a chance of progressing when the two sides meet again at Ewood Park.
Sergio Peter on playing in Germany and Leverkusen: “One of my dreams would be to play at a great stadium like the BayArena. It is great to be here back in my home country, I haven’t played in Germany before so it would be great to play.
“Bayer Leverkusen is a great team with experienced players, but they also have some younger players as well. They are solid, they are a good team “
Leverkusen manager Michael Skibbe on Rovers: “ Blackburn are committed and prepared to run all day. We have to stand up to that if we want to be in a good position for the second leg. It will be difficult because we are aware that English teams are very well-organised.“
Jason Roberts on the squad: “We are all in it together and we wish everyone was fit and to be able to challenge for places, but that isn’t the case.
“We see each other around the place and we are always geeing each other up, so there is certainly an element of going out there and doing it for the boys who can’t be out there with us.”
Mark Hughes on the UEFA Cup: “I think we’ve been excellent in Europe this season. We’ve grown from the experience and learnt as we have gone along. Certainly our away form has been very good, which has been really pleasing. So if we can continue to be nice and strong in the away leg then I think we’ll have a platform to win the tie at Ewood – that is what we are hoping for.“
Bayer Leverkusen Team News:
Leverkusen have been ravaged by injuries to their back line. The experienced Brazilian duo of Juan and Roque Junior will miss the first leg, with Juan also struggling to be back in time for the second tie.
Bernd Schneider was expected to miss out but has recovered sufficiently having returned at the weekend.
Player to watch: Sergej Barbarez
Sergej Barbarez has provided Leverkusen with plenty of flair from midfield this season and he will have to be watched closely by Rovers. He likes to sit in a role just behind the frontmen, arriving late into the box.
He is an experienced campaigner having played European football for the past decade and will therefore know all the tricks to unlock defences.
Blackburn Rovers Team News:
Rovers are still without Morten Gamst Pedersen and Matt Derbyshire but there is better news surrounding David Dunn. There is an outside chance that he could feature despite his dead leg against Everton at the weekend.
Jason Roberts is the likely partner in attack for Benni McCarthy whereas Ryan Nelsen and Stephane Henchoz are set to play their first UEFA Cup games for Rovers this season.
Stephen Warnock is eligible to play despite featuring for Liverpool in the Champions League earlier in the season.
Player to watch: Tugay
Tugay has been in his element when playing in the UEFA Cup this season. The slower pace of the game allows him more time on the ball, consequently giving him the freedom to choose and execute his killer passes.
Leverkusen are still a little off the pace after their winter break and this will benefit players like Tugay. Their lower energy levels should add to the amount of time he has on the ball.
Match Facts & Stats
Rovers have never met German opposition in competitive fixtures.
Leverkusen reached the Champions League final in 2002, far surpassing any European achievements made by Rovers.
Leverkusen are generally poor against English opposition but they did enjoy victories over Manchester United and Liverpool en route to the 2002 European Cup final.
They have already faced an English side in this year`s campaign when they were beaten at the Bay Arena by Tottenham.
The referee is Pieter Vink from Holland. His officials are from Holland too.
Bayer Leverkusen will be keen to demonstrate what they are capable of and will be fresh after their winter break. However, that break coupled with some injuries may have an adverse affect.
Rovers themselves have injuries to key first team players but are more match fit than their out of form German opponents.
That physical edge will be the difference. If Rovers can press and hurry the home side, ensuring that Tugay and David Bentley see plenty of the ball, then chances will be created, the kind that McCarthy and Roberts will thrive on.
Carston Ramelow will be deployed to nullify the affect of Tugay but the wily Turk will be prepared for this and will therefore come out on top.
Rovers to win 2-1.
Either Arsenal or Bolton on Saturday lunchtime in the F. A. Cup.