Leverkusen - In an encounter between two of the Bundesliga's European representatives, it is a testament to Christian Streich that Leverkusen are refusing to take Saturday’s season opener (kick-off 15:30 CET) against SC Freiburg lightly.
Leverkusen fans have lofty expectations after their impressive 3rd place finish last season, but Finnish coach Sami Hyypiä is more inclined to take things slowly and build, he has described hosting Freiburg as “very difficult, they play very aggressively and go into one-on-ones taking no prisoners”.
Indeed, the former Finland international also noted that this game will be a step-up in tempo and quality from pre-season friendly fixtures, sentiments echoed by captain Simon Rolfes who admitted, “pre-season can only take you so far, eventually you just have to get on with the season”.
Leverkusen do however have genuine reasons for optimism and fans are hopeful Hyypiä can deliver the club’s first silverware in 20 years. Heung-Min Son and Robbie Kruse have bolstered a front line which already includes last season's top goalscorer Stefan Kießling, while the backline has been strengthened with the like of Italy U-21 international Giulio Donati and Bosnian Emer Spahic.
SC Freiburg’s extraordinary performance last season, which saw them finish in 5th place, was no fluke in the eyes of head coach Christian Streich, who is excited about the start of the new season.
“We’ve put our shoes on, locked the door behind us, and are about to get going,” said Streich, who went on to highlight his side's willingness to put in extra hours in the mountains over pre-season to ensure last season is not seen as a one-off. “The intensity and focus have been very good. We've been working on new systems and building trust.”
The system will likely have to make do without summer signings Felix Kraus and Vaclav Pilar, as well as Vegar Eggen Hedenstad and Marco Terrazzino, all of whom are still recovering from injury. However, the 23-year-old Hendrick Zuck, who scored both goals in the cup win against TSG Neustrelitz is “certainly an option to start” said Streich.
"They play in a 4-3-3 system and currently boast a very strong squad. They're a team who don't always need to have the ball in order to pose a threat," admitted Freiburg's eccentric head coach, who will undoubtedly have something up his sleeve for what promises to be an enticing encounter between two of last season's top five sides.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen: Leno - Donati, Spahic, Toprak, Boesnich - Rolfes, Reinartz, Bender - Son, Kießling, Sam
SC Freiburg: Baumann - Mujda, Ginter, Höhn, Sorg - Fernandes, Schuster - Coquelin, Schmid - Hanke, Mehmedi