Düsseldorf - Derby games seem to roll around every week in North-Rhine Westphalia and this Saturday is no different as Fortuna Düsseldorf play host to high-flying Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the ESPRIT Arena (kick-off 15.30 CET).
A mere 27 km separate the two clubs, but they could not be much further apart in their top-flight fortunes this term, with one embroiled in a scrap for survival and the other on course for the UEFA Champions League.
Embarking on their first Bundesliga campaign since being relegated in 1997, die Flingeraner have been fiercely competitive under the astute leadership of head coach Norbert Meier. They began the season with four straight clean sheets, and that steely, tenacious attitude has helped them to 15th place in the league table, with a five-point lead over FC Augsburg in the relegation play-off place.
With eight games to go Düsseldorf's top-flight destiny remains in their own hands. Australian international , who has four goals and five assists to date, is crucial to their chances going into what is set to be a "Augsburg have good momentum at present,” said Meier in his pre-match press conference. “But we have to concentrate on ourselves, which is what we’ve been doing all season long.”
Leverkusen, on the other hand, have an entirely different set of priorities. This time last year Sami Hyypiä's troops secured UEFA Europa League qualification with a strong end to the campaign. This term the Werkself are hoping to go one better and seal a return to the Champions League. Currently occupying third place and with a six-point lead over Eintracht Frankfurt in fourth, that objective is well within their grasp.
“Recently the teams around us haven't picked up too many points,” said midfielder “Now we have the chance to cement our place near the top of the table.” However, Hyypiä was swift to warn his charges “it will be a very tough game. At home, Düsseldorf have played extremely well.” Fortuna have taken seven points from their last three home matches and not long ago gave league leaders FC Bayern Munich a run for their money in a 3-2 defeat in the Allianz Arena.
The Rhine rivals' meeting earlier this season was on Matchday 10, when Castro was among the scorers in a 3-2 victory for Bayer. One player not on the scoresheet then was Stefan Kießling, but with 16 goals to his name already this season, the man Meier describes as “an outstanding goalscorer” will certainly be someone for the Fortuna defence to keep an eye on.
The home side can count on typically fervent support, however, and may also take inspiration from the last time they hosted Leverkusen, a 1-0 win 16 years ago. That said, they will be determined history does not repeat itself, as in spite of that victory Fortuna went on to be relegated.
Düsseldorf: Giefer - Balogun, Latka, Malezas, van den Bergh - Bellinghausen, Fink, Lambertz, Kruse - Ilsö, Bolly
Leverkusen: Leno - Carvajal, Wollscheid, Toprak, Kadlec - Reinartz, Bender, Rolfes - Castro, Schürrle - Kießling