Leverkusen, Germany, Feb 21 – Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez has hit goalscoring form again for Bayer Leverkusen in a warning to Atletico Madrid ahead of their Champions League clash on Tuesday.
Five goals in three games ended a 16 match scoring drought for the Mexican and took him back into the top five hitmen in the German championship with 10 goals.
After reports that Leverkusen wanted to sell the former Manchester United and Real Madrid star in January, Chicharito is now being hailed again for his role in victories over Augsburg on Friday and Eintracht Frankfurt a week earlier.
But Bayer, third last year when Chicharito got 17 goals and was fourth in the Bundesliga scoring charts, are still back in eighth place, a long way off the four German spots for next year’s Champions League.
And Leverkusen will still be outsiders against Atletico with Antoine Griezmann spearheading their attack.
The Germans will be without suspended Hakan Calhanoglu and key winger Karim Bellarabi said Bayer must step up to the plate to break their Champions League last 16 curse.
The Round of 16 has been the source of misery for Bayer over the last 15 years since Leverkusen reached the 2002 Champions League final.
Atletico beat them in a penalty shootout in this round in 2015 following heavy defeats to Paris Saint-Germain in 2014 and Barcelona in 2012 over the two legs at the same stage.
– ‘Hard game’ –
Bellarabi is returning to form after missing the first half of the season with a leg injury and is relishing another crack at Atletico after their 3-2 defeat on penalties, to break the 1-1 aggregate score, two years ago.
“We are full of confidence now and want to really put our foot on the gas,” said Bellarabi.
“We’re looking forward to it and will have to concentrate 100 percent on Atletico, because it will be another hard game on Tuesday.
Diego Simeone’s Madrid received a massive boost before the flight to Germany as goalkeeper Jan Oblak was included in the squad.
The Slovenian international, who kept eight clean sheets in 13 Champions League games when Atletico reached last season’s final, has been sidelined since since surgery on a dislocated shoulder in December.
Oblak’s return is a timely boost with Atletico’s defence depleted by injuries to centre-back Diego Godin and right-back Juanfran.
Lucas Hernandez has deputised for Godin in Atletico’s last two outings, but is due in court on Tuesday.
The French youth international faces domestic violence charges after both he and his girlfriend were arrested over an altercation earlier this month.
On Friday, Simeone said Hernandez could be free to face Leverkusen, if the club fly him to Germany in time for kick-off.
Kevin Gameiro made his case to start up front alongside Griezmann, in place of Fernando Torres, after coming off the bench to score a five-minute hat-trick in Saturday’s 4-1 win against Sporting Gijon.
That display ended a four-month La Liga scoring drought for Gameiro.