Bremen - Two teams with a vision of Europe, and possibly even the UEFA Champions League itself, go head-to-head on Wednesday evening as Werder Bremen play host to Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
Bremen looking to close the gap...
The hosts were regulars in Europe's elite club competition for much of the previous decade, but the last couple of years have seen them slip into mid-table obscurity. Thomas Schaaf, the Bundesliga's longest-serving single-club head coach with something to spare, is in the midst of a team restructuring project which has already shown signs this season of a fruitful harvest in the making.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, consistency is one area in which the new-look Green-Whites are still falling short. That said, victory over the Werkself would be their fourth straight success on home turf - a statistic which would be a nice added bonus to the more vital one of narrowing the gap between the two sides to three points. Staying with the number crunching for a moment, six of the last seven league meetings between the pair have ended all-square.
Throw in a couple of wins for Leverkusen and it leaves Werder seeking their first maximum haul in nine outings against Wednesday's visitors, who, on top of that, have the added incentive of second place beckoning after the teams directly above them all stumbled on Tuesday. Schaaf is under no illusions that his charges are in for a tough game against opponents who "are very good on the ball and strong as a team - with some outstanding individual talents". On the plus side for the coach: "In our home games we've been making fewer mistakes and playing with a bit more consistency so far."
...Leverkusen out to increase it
Consistency has not been a problem for Leverkusen of late. Indeed, Bayer have lost just two of their last 16 games in all competitions - although both those defeats did admittedly come in the space of their last four matches, at Wolfsburg and Metalist Kharkiv. They bounced back from the latter with a hard-fought 2-1 win at Hoffenheim last time out and aim to follow that up with another solid result on the road at one of their potential rivals for a UEFA Europa League berth.
Against a "very strong team, well organised and with great individual ability up front above all, Bayer head coach Sami Hyypiä acknowledged his own side would "have to play better than we did at Hoffenheim on Sunday - but I'm confident that we will." Playmaker Renato Augusto, rested at the weekend in the wake of the trip to Ukraine, is back in contention for a starting slot, while hosts Bremen will be without one of the forward talents Hyypiä referred to - Austrian international Marko Arnautovic, ruled out with a heavy cold.
Bremen: Mielitz - Gebre Selassie, Prödl, Sokratis, Fritz - Junuzovic - Füllkrug, de Bruyne, Hunt, Elia - Petersen
Leverkusen: Leno - Carvajal, Wollscheid, Toprak, Hosogai - L. Bender, Reinartz, Rolfes - Castro, Kießling, Schürrle