Statistically speaking, Stuttgart are the favorite opponent of Bayer’s The 29-year-old has scored more goals against the Swabians (eleven) than against any other side, with his entire haul coming in the last seven meetings. With central defender Georg Niedermeier missing for VfB due to an ankle problem, looking after the forward will be no easy task.
“I don’t treat this game any differently,” said Kießling. “I just want to show that I can help the team in every match.” He will be especially keen to add to his season tally of 15 goals after Leverkusen drew a blank away at Greuther Fürth last weekend, a result that left them in third place on 42 points.
Retaining that position come the end of the season would seal the club’s return to the UEFA Champions League, and in the eyes of midfielder Gonzalo Castro, that is the club’s principle goal after exiting the UEFA Europa League against SL Benfica last week. “The Champions League is what we want; every game up until then is a final”, said the versatile midfielder.
Yet for all their grand plans, die Werkself have stuttered somewhat in 2013, winning just twice in eight games. While the hosts may be better rested than their guests, Stuttgart’s during the week could end up giving the Swabians a much-needed morale boost.
Currently languishing in 11th place, Stuttgart are also in the semi-finals of the Cup for the first time since 2007 and have reached the last sixteen of the Europa League. In what has been a taxing season for the club, those two achievements are the types of minor victories that could well inspire them to a strong finish in the league, something which has become their trademark in recent seasons.
“I have to pay my team a huge compliment,” said coach Bruno Labbadia in his pre-match press conference. "We don’t have a big squad to compete in three competitions and it is a tough ask for us, [but] we’ll travel to Leverkusen looking to take something from the game, and I believe we have a chance,” the 47-year-old concluded.
VfB have prevailed just twice in the last ten games against Bayer, and will face an in-form in goal, who came through the ranks at Stuttgart between 2003 and 2011. Thankfully, though, they have their own goalscorer in tow in the form of Vedad Ibisevic, who netted for the first time since December in the DFB Cup triumph and has five in nine outings against Leverkusen. Goals would seem to be the order of the day in the BayArena.
Leverkusen: Leno – Carvajal, Wollscheid, Toprak, Kadlec – Reinartz, Rolfes, Bender – Castro, Schürrle – Kießling
Stuttgart: Ulreich – Sakai, Maza, Tasci, Boka – Gentner, Kvist – Harnik, Holzhauser, Traore - Ibisevic