Munich - It has been a good 15 years since Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Fortuna Düsseldorf last met in a competitive match, but the time has now come for them to renew their rivalry in Sunday's Rhine Derby (kick-off 15:30 CET) at the BayArena.
Fortuna took four points from Leverkusen in theirs last season in the top-flight in 1996/97. On the evidence of recent form, though, a similar result is by no means guaranteed.
Less than 30 kilometres divide the two cities, yet Leverkusen and Düsseldorf's form has been worlds apart in recent weeks. Bayer are unbeaten in six in the league and have coped with competing in three competitions admirably, tasting defeat just twice all season.
In all competitions, that unbeaten run stretches back as far as ten games, a streak that has put Sami Hyypiä's men back in the mix at the top, and confidence will be sky-high in the group after last week's sensational triumph away at league leaders FC Bayern Munich. Fortuna, on the other hand, have won just once in their last eight matches and have lost their last three league games.
Hyypiä expects stubborn opponent
Coach Hyypiä, however, insists the improved results were down to a combination of small factors and minor details, which, in his view, often decide games at professional level. “We’ve been working the same way as we did before the Dortmund game,” he explained, adding that "hard work" was the key ingredient to the current success following a mixed start to the season.
And despite Fortuna's dip in form, Hyypiä was quick to emphasise his high regard for Sunday's rivals, predicting that they "will probably adopt a defensive approach." Düsseldorf's narrow extra-time success against Borussia Mönchengladbach in the DFB Cup is likely to have helped Norbert Meier's squad regain some confidence, while fatigue may also indeed be a factor for two sides that both went to extra time just three days ago.
Meier: 'One of the greats'
Meier, who rates Leverkusen as "one of the greatest sides there are in the Bundesliga," is expecting "a team that we need to be well organised against." A solid defence was key to Düsseldorf's remarkable start to the season, when they kept five straight clean sheets. Twelve conceded goals in the last four games have left Fortuna only two points above the relegation zone, but they will be encouraged by their away form this season, which is fourth best in the division.
Injured defenders Stelios Malezas and Bruno Soares, as well as suspended Oliver Fink will be unavailable for Meier, but Leverkusen are not without their own personnel concerns. First-choice goalkeeper Bernd Leno, full-back Michal Kadlec and midfielders Renato Augusto and Karim Bellarabi are all unavailable, meaning that, after the mammoth effort in Bielefeld, Hyppiä's squad will be tested to the limit.
Leverkusen: Rensing - Carvajal, Wollscheid, Toprak, Hosogai - Reinartz - Bender, Rolfes - Castro, Kießling, Schürrle
Giefer - Levels, Langeneke, Juanan, van den Bergh - Bodzek, Lambertz - Kruse, Ilsö, Bellinghausen - Schahin