Bayer Leverkusen will return to action in August to continue their UEFA Europa League campaign and captain Lars Bender wants to right wrongs from the team’s DFB Cup final defeat to Bayern Munich earlier this season before considering his own future.
Leverkusen's Europa League journey resumes against Rangers on 6 August, defending a 3-1 lead in their last 16 tie. The second leg will take place at the BayArena before the remaining eight teams all come to the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany - namely Gelsenkirchen, Duisburg, Düsseldorf and Cologne - to compete in the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final, which will be played at the RheinEnergieStadion in Cologne.
It means that Peter Bosz's side have another chance at silverware in 2019/20 having suffered defeat in that one final already this campaign - their 4-2 Cup final loss to Bayern Munich at the beginning of July. Bender wants his side to be fully focused on going one better this time around.
"We still want to contest a final, there's still a title to be won,” Bender told a virtual press conference on Friday. "We want to get into a flow and develop through the games to such an extent that we may be able to play a final this season. But the task against Rangers is first."
For 19-time Germany international Bender, it may be his last chance at winning a title with Die Werkself. The 31-year-old has been hampered by injuries this season, restricting him to 26 appearances across all competitions.
"I'll see if I can play all the games in the tournament and then I can go into the time off with a good feeling," Bender said. "Playing and winning is always a good distraction, which gives me a great feeling. The past few weeks and months have been so extraordinary that no one knows what the coming weeks will look like - just from the mental side of it.
"It's important that we keep our joy to play in order to really achieve the best performances."
With his contract set to expire at the BayArena at the end of the prolonged 2020/21 season, Bender has to consider all possibilities about his future. Muscular injuries have mounted up and at his age, with over 300 appearances for Leverkusen under his belt, the Rosenheim-born defender does not want to harm his future after football.
"There are thoughts in many directions, but I don't want to go into them in detail," Bender said. "It's a constant process, but there's no room for that at the moment. Injuries create stitches in the heart. One or the other scar has also been created or torn open. Of course, you think about the consequences of them."