- Leverkusen host Frankfurt on Saturday.
- Chicharito and Fabian ruled out.
- Frankfurt's Hasebe reborn under Kovac.
Makoto Hasebe? Check. High-flying Eintracht Frankfurt? Check. Mega-talented Bayer 04 Leverkusen? Check. No Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez and Marco Fabian? Not a problem. bundesliga.com takes a closer look at Saturday's showdown at the BayArena...
1) Hasebe’s calming influence
Frankfurt coach Niko Kovac has cleverly deployed Japanese veteran Hasebe at sweeper since Matchday 9 and six of Frankfurt’s clean sheets have come since that adjustment was made.
“I can now say that I will become a coach when I retire, and I’d like to coach the way Niko Kovac does.” #Eintracht #Frankfurt's Makoto #Hasebe has his future all mapped out. "Ich kann jetzt schon sagen, dass ich nach meiner Karriere Trainer werden und es so machen will wie Niko Kovac." Eintracht Frankfurts Makoto Hasebe hat seine Zukunft bereits geplant! #fussball #soccer #football #bundesliga
The 33-year-old Japan international has even kept his cool at the other end of the pitch too, scoring the opening goal from the penalty spot in the derby win over Darmstadt.
Hasebe has missed only five league games since joining the Eagles in 2014 and he now seems indispensable to their cause. While Kovac made several changes for their midweek win at Hannover 96 in the DFB Pokal, Hasebe kept his place.
2) Leno to make 250th appearance
Whatever the outcome, Saturday’s game will be a special occasion for Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno. Despite being only 24 years old, Leno will make his 250th appearance in all competitions for Bayer, should he take to the field against Frankfurt.
Watch: Get to know Bayer's shot-stopper off the pitch as he tries his hand at basketball during the 2017 Florida Cup:
Leno joined Leverkusen from VfB Stuttgart in 2011 and has played over 30 Bundesliga matches in each of the past four seasons. He first starred in the Champions League at the age of 19 and he has three caps for Germany.
3) Frankfurt’s rock-solid defence
One obvious reason for Frankfurt’s improvement from relegation candidates to European hopefuls is that manager Kovac has got to the bottom of their defensive problems. The Eagles let in 52 goals last season but so far they have conceded only 15 in this campaign.
They now boast the second best defensive record in the league with nine clean sheets - only leaders and defending champions FC Bayern München (12) have conceded fewer goals.
Watch: Five things you need to know about Leverkusen vs. Frankfurt.
4) Leverkusen turn to beach volleyball
Unlike Frankfurt, Leverkusen were not involved in DFB Pokal action in midweek. Instead, they tried their hand at beach volleyball during a team-building exercise in Düsseldorf on Tuesday. Roger Schmidt felt the change of scene did the players good and it was probably no bad thing to take minds off the back-to-back defeats against Borussia Mönchengladbach and Hamburger SV.
5) Role reversal
Leverkusen are a club geared to play Champions League football and they will host Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their last 16 tie later this month.
The chances of them making it to Europe’s top competition next season are not looking good though. Roger Schmidt’s men have lost nine of their 19 Bundesliga matches so far and Saturday’s game against Frankfurt is one of only 15 they have left in which to make up lost ground.
Die Werkself are 10 points behind Borussia Dortmund, who occupy the final Champions League qualifying place, and 11 behind Frankfurt, who would qualify for the group stages if they stay where they are.
Third from bottom last season, Frankfurt are now where Leverkusen finished up the 2015/2016 season. It’s been quite a turnaround, but will the form book be thrown out the window for Saturday?