With Freiburg loitering just three points off the foot of the table and Leverkusen keen to bounce back from at the end of 2013, the short-term aim may be the same, but the long-term targets remain in stark contrast.
'Work, work, work'
Competing on three fronts for much of the first half of the season, SC Freiburg represented a pale imitation of the side that clinched European qualification during the 2012/13 campaign. However, with DFB Cup and UEFA Europa League glory off the table, Christian Streich is confident his side can turn their form around. “We’ll push ourselves to the limit on Saturday,” explained the SCF head coach. “Then, in contrast to the Hinrunde, we’ll have a week to recover and prepare for our next encounter.”
Despite his players working in a “dedicated, intense and concentrated” manner during their ten-day training camp in Rota, Spain, Streich was quick to underline that the hard work isn’t over, starting with the visit of Bayer 04. “The challenge now revolves around how we’ll go about powering on over 90 minutes against Leverkusen now that we’ve got a chance to put in a good performance again,” continued the 48-year-old. “We’ve got be tactically sound and work, work, work. That’s the most important thing.”
Featuring in three separate competitions undoubtedly took its toll on Freiburg’s squad in the Hinrunde, but the winter break has given the likes of Julian Schuster, Jonathan Schmid and Vegar Hedenstad time to recover and return to first-team affairs. “We once again had a lot of players on the training pitch, which is a key factor for us,” admitted Streich, who will definitely be without Sebastian Freis and Marco Terrazzino.
The visitors, meanwhile, are having to cope with a few absentees of their own. Australian international Robbie Kruse has been ruled out for the rest of the season, while the Freiburg encounter comes “too early” for Sidney Sam according to head coach Sami Hyypiä, despite the winger “returning to team training”. Of greater concern though, will be the absence of centre-backs Philipp Wollscheid and Emir Spahic, who are both suspended.
Leverkusen fully focused
However, former Freiburg defender Ömer Toprak, fresh from signing a long-term contract extension with Leverkusen, believes the backline changes are more than manageable. “I’ve already played alongside Stefan Reinartz at the heart of defence, for example. If we have to play alongside each other then we’re more than prepared to do that,” explained the Turkish international, who admitted that Saturday’s fixture will be a “special game” for him personally.
Die Werkself have emerged victorious in both encounters this season, collecting a 3-1 win on Matchday 1 and 2-1 victory in the DFB Cup 3rd Round, but Hyypiä is refusing to look at the weekend clash as a foregone conclusion. “We witnessed in the cup match how difficult it can be against Freiburg if you don’t give everything for the win,” explained the Finn, who is determined for his side to send a message as they bid to hold onto second place. “On Saturday we’ve got to push ourselves to the very limit and demonstrate 100 per cent commitment all the way until the final whistle.”
Freiburg: Baumann - Mujdza, Diagne, Höhn, Sorg - Ginter, Fernandes - Schmid, Pilar - Mehmedi, Darida
Leverkusen: Leno - Donati, Reinartz, Toprak, Can - L. Bender, Rolfes, Castro - Hegeler, Kießling, Son