Munich - Bayer 04 Leverkusen's trip to 1. FC Nuremberg this Saturday (kick-off 15:30 CET) sees Stefan Kießling return to face his former outfit intent on setting a new club record, but above all on helping his book take their place in next season’s UEFA Champions League.
Kirsten’s record under threat
Already the Bundesliga’s top goalscorer for 2012, is just one goal adrift of Borussia Dortmund’s at the top of the current campaign's goalscoring charts, yet it's another best mark he's got in his sights.
In his tenth Bundesliga season, the six-time German international set a new personal best with his penalty against Werder Bremen last weekend. Only Ulf Kirsten has scored as many goals as Kießling’s 22 in a single campaign for Leverkusen, and now the 29-year-old ever-present has three bites at the cherry to go one better.
More importantly, though, he wants to celebrate clinching a place in the UEFA Champions League with a win over his former club. “Our aim has got to be to wrap things up tomorrow so that we can then head into our remaining games against Hannover and in Hamburg in a relaxed mood,” said Leverkusen’s leading hitman, who has also set up a further seven goals for his team mates this year.
Nuremberg do not need reminding of Kießling’s goalscoring prowess, though. With 108 goals, he is the third-highest Bundesliga scorer still in action today, behind Bayern Munich duo Claudio Pizarro and Mario Gomez, and 13 of those goals came in Nuremberg colours. His ten strikes in the 2005/06 season earned him a move to Leverkusen, for whom he has now scored 95 goals in 217 games, providing a further 41 assists.
“It makes me very proud,” stated Leverkusen’s number 11 after his winner against Bremen. “Now I really want to put my foot down and achieve something.” A place in the Germany squad for this summer’s tour of the USA is likely to be on the agenda, while the chance to strut his stuff on Europe’s top stage next season could be just 90 minutes away from being set in stone.
Not if his former club have anything to say about it, though. Three defeats in a row have seen Nuremberg slip out of contention for a place in Europe themselves. Furthermore, they are still in need of a point to reach the 40-point mark, thus securing their place in the top flight for another year.
As a result, head coach Michael Wiesinger has called on his players to show a reaction to their recent slump by bouncing back this Saturday.“We have got to show our commitment to these colours,” he said. “We as a team have got to give the impression that we want to put these defeats behind us. We want to start another positive run. The players have got to put their egos to one side and send out a signal. We need players on the field who know in every single training session and every game that they have to push themselves to the limit.”
Nuremberg: Schäfer - Balitsch, Nilsson, Klose, Pinola - Simons, Stark - Kiyotake, Feulner, Esswein - Pekhart
Leverkusen: Leno - Carvajal, Wollscheid, Toprak, Kadlec - Bender, Reinartz, Rolfes - Sam, Kießling, Schürrle