Berlin - It may be playing out in the inevitable shadow of the summit meeting in Dortmund, but Hertha Berlin against Bayer 04 Leverkusen has all the makings of a real Bundesliga cracker itself (kick-off: Saturday, 15:30 CET).
Luhukay wary of Bayer forward threat
For the hosts, who have already given European champions FC Bayern a real run for their money down in Munich this season, it is another opportunity to demonstrate that they are not back in the top flight merely to battle against the drop once again, or even just to make up the numbers. The visitors meanwhile are all the more determined to depart with another three points in the bag given that they are bound to benefit one way or another from the clash of the only two sides above them in the standings.
Home coach Jos Luhukay is naturally enough anticipating a “big challenge against a “top team with huge individual quality” - not least up front, where the visitors have an “exceptional striker” leading the line in 2012/13 Bundesliga top scorer Stefan Kießling, more than ably aided and abetted by Sidney Sam and Heung Min Son – the latter fresh from scoring his first top-flight hattrick against Hamburger SV last time out.
Hertha however can take heart not only from their own impressive start to life back in the Bundesliga, but also from the statistical fact that they have not lost any of their last seven meetings with Saturday's opponents. In addition, Luhukay has a close to full-strength squad to call on and for one among their number, the game has a particular resonance. Hajime Hosogai swapped Leverkusen for the capital before the start of the season and the Japanese holding midfielder, a first-team fixture from the off for Hertha, is looking forward to a reunion with some not-so-old acquaintances at the Olympiastadion this weekend.
Bayer in confident mood
Bayer coach Sami Hyypiä has been keeping it typically low-key in the run-up to a game against a team who “have played well this season and shown they can pick up points.” Precisely the same could be said of his own charges and the former Finland international is concomitantly confident that, “If we have the right mental attitude and can play our own game, we've a good chance of taking points away from Berlin.
Kießling who, like recent Germany call-up Sam, has netted seven goals in the current campaign, was even more upbeat, stressing that, “We'll try and impose our own game, that's the most important thing. If we can do that, I'm sure we'll win it.” The 29-year-old goalgetter is nonetheless under no illusions that in order for that to happen, “We're going to have to be ready to take it to the limit,” against hosts who “have enjoyed a fine season back in the Bundesliga so far.”
Hertha: Kraft - Pekarik, Langkamp, Lustenberger, van den Bergh - Hosogai, Cigerci - Allagui, Skjelbred, Ben-Hatira - Ramos
Leverkusen: Leno - Donati, Wollscheid, Toprak, Can - Bender, Rolfes, Castro - Sam, Kießling, Son