Bremen - Bayer 04 Leverkusen will be looking to bounce back from their shock defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 16 with victory at SV Werder Bremen on Saturday (kick-off 15.30 CET).
"A good impression"
Leverkusen's 1-0 reverse to the Eagles, which came on the back of a four-game winning streak in the Bundesliga, was their first home league defeat of the season and their first in all competitions since losing to Manchester United FC in the UEFA Champions League. Head coach Sami Hyypiä sees no reason to panic following the result, but the former Finland international is aware that Bremen will be looking to capitalise on his team's possibly fragile confidence.
"It's certainly not going to be easy for us," said the former Liverpool FC defender. "But if we play like we had been prior to the Frankfurt game and go into this match with the right attitude, we should be able to leave the pitch as winners. We want to get the three points and make a good impression in the final match of 2013." Victory would certainly do just that, and make this the best ever first half to a season in Leverkusen's history. Their current record points total is 39 from the 2001/02 campaign; the present group of players have 37 points on the board.
Hyypiä reserved special praise for Turkish centre-back Ömer Toprak at his pre-match press conference. The 24-year-old has been a revelation this season, playing a key role in a Leverkusen defence that has conceded just 15 goals in the league this season. "Ömer has been very good in the past few months and possesses all the qualities of a top-class central defender. He's strong in the air, tough in the tackle, fast and good on the ball, but he can still improve and become more of an authoritative figure at the club."
Leverkusen will be without the injured Sidney Sam, Stefan Reinartz and Roberto Hilbert for the trip to the Weserstadion, while Toprak's regular defensive partner Emir Spahic serves the final game of his three-match suspension following his sending-off against Borussia Dortmund a fortnight ago. Hyypiä has a decision to make on the right wing, with Jens Hegeler and Australian international Robbie Kruse both in contention.
For Werder Bremen, defender Sebastian Prödl could return following a six-week lay-off with a thigh injury, but Aaron Hunt is likely to miss out after suffering a calf injury in training this week. Nils Petersen also picked up an injury during training on Tuesday, but the club's top scorer is confident he'll be fit to at least make the bench. "If I don't feel any pain, I should be in the squad for the Leverkusen game," said the 25-year-old former FC Bayern München marksman.
Although the northerners have won just one of their last ten league matches, skipper Clemens Fritz believes die Grün-Weißen can emulate Frankfurt and pull off a shock win over Hyypiä's team. "Bayer have been one of the top teams in the division for several years, but we've definitely got a chance in front of our own spectators," said the 33-year-old. "Frankfurt set us a good example last week. Surprises are always possible in football."
Bremen coach Robin Dutt spent a brief period in charge of die Werkself during the 2011/12 season, but the 48-year-old says of his stint at the BayArena that nothing could be further from his mind ahead of the Matchday 17 encounter. "I wasn't there long enough to develop any emotional attachment," he said. "They have a strong team and are very hard to beat. All I ask from my players is a focused and passionate display."
Bremen: Wolf - Fritz, Lukimya, Caldirola, Garcia - Bargfrede, Makiadi - Gebre Selassie, Ekici, Elia - di Santo
Leverkusen: Leno - Donati, Wollscheid, Toprak, Can - L. Bender, Rolfes, Castro - Hegeler, Kießling, Son