Leverkusen - Bayer 04 Leverkusen go into their clash with Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday evening (kick-off 17:30 CET) hoping still to have plenty to smile about as they head down the final straight of 2013.
Victory in the UEFA Champions League against Real Sociedad de Futbol on Tuesday earned Sami Hyypiä's men a ticket as one of four Bundesliga representatives to the final 16 of Europe's elite club competition. They are also the number one challengers to FC Bayern München at the top of the Bundesliga, just two points shy of their historic best haul for the first half of a season, chalked up in 2001/02, when they only narrowly finished second to Borussia Dortmund.
Also, the Werkself are through to the last eight of the DFB Cup, and it is no surprise, therefore, that the permanent smile on the face of forward Heung Min Son is becoming contagious.
Rarely does the South Korean's lips flatten horizontally. Both on the field of play, as off it, Son can be seen with a smile a mile wide, and he has every reason to be cheerful too. In his last four games, he has scored six goals. At the age of 21, he is already starting to deliver on his huge potential, and inspire the side he joined from Hamburger SV in the summer into a position where they have every right to dream of at least one piece of silverware in May.
But it is not only smiling - and scoring - that Son does so well. Alongside Sidney Sam and Stefan Kießling, he forms the most fearsome attack in the Bundesliga. Between the three of them, 23 goals and 11 assists have helped Leverkusen into such a commanding position, and into record-breaking territory. "I don't care too much about records because they you can't really get anything for them," said coach Sami Hyypiä. "But I'll be delighted if we get three points against Frankfurt."
Sam is ruled out injured, although that does not make the task much easier for Frankfurt, who are still searching for their first Bundesliga victory since mid-September, on Matchday 5. They did win in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday night though, beating APOEL Nicosia 2-0 to confirm their place in the last 32 and boost Eintracht's hopes of also registering three points on Sunday. "You never go into a game without any chance at all and the match has done us good," said coach Armin Veh.
Praise for Leverkusen
The game will certainly have also done Takashi Inui good. After some performances which fell below his usual high standards, the 25-year-old showed glimpses of his best, and is in line for more of a lead role at Bayer. "You could see how fresh some of the fringe players were and there's a good chance one or two of them will begin against Leverkusen," said Veh, who has started with Japanese midfielder Inui only eight times in the Bundesliga this season.
Bastian Oczipka and Sebastian Jung are also expected to be available again having recovered from injuries, and Veh could certainly do with all the strength he can find against a side former Finland international without a doubt rates highly. "Everybody keeps talking about Bayern and Dortmund, but that's not really fair," he said. "It may not have been expected that Leverkusen would do so well, and they're very impressive."
Leverkusen: Leno - Donati, Wollscheid, Toprak, Can - Bender, Rolfes, Castro - Kruse, Kießling, Son
Frankfurt: Trapp - Jung, Zambrano, Anderson, Oczipka - Schwegler, Russ - Kadlec, Rode, Barnetta - Joselu