Leverkusen - Beleaguered Bayer 04 Leverkusen have the opportunity to end a run of seven defeats in nine games in all competitions when they host 1. FSV Mainz 05 on Matchday 23 (kick-off 14.30 GMT/15.30 CET).
Sami Hyypiä's men are in a torrid run of form having lost four straight games in three competitions since triumphing over Borussia Mönchengladbach at the beginning February. Mainz, by contrast, have lost just one of their last eight and come into this encounter on the back of a clean sheet at FC Schalke 04.
It has been a demoralising period for Leverkusen. Die Werkself were of the DFB Cup by Bundesliga 2 side 1.FC Kaiserslautern in extra time, before being subjected to a 4-0 UEFA Champions League humbling at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain FC. Throw in another home defeat to rival Champions League hopefuls Schalke and a 3-1 reverse at VfL Wolfsburg last weekend, and the depth of the club’s current rut becomes ever more apparent.
“It’s obvious that we’re in a difficult period right now,” analysed head coach Sami Hyypiä in his pre-match press conference. “We want to end this run as soon as we can, and it’s good that we’ve had a few days to train and prepare for what will be a tough game. We want to show everyone how much character we have.”
Mainz in form
The contrast in emotions among their opposition this weekend could hardly be more acute. Mainz have lost just once this calendar year - also to high-flyers Wolfsburg - and have recorded four wins from their last five, with shut-outs in their last two matches. They also sit level on 34 points with Hertha Berlin and FC Augsburg, just one point behind sixth place.
“I’m pleased with the mentality and the quality we showed in the away game against Schalke,” said coach Thomas Tuchel. “Now we need total concentration against a very strong Leverkusen team that maybe haven't been getting the results lately. We'll need a performance at least as good as the one against Schalke.”
Mainz’s display at the Veltins Arena exuded the type of belief that has been plainly absent at Bayer in recent weeks, but Hyypiä remained upbeat on his side's chances of success on Saturday. “The intensity the players showed in training has made me confident we can turn things around.” Such intensity had briefly threatened to derail their preparation when news that Stefan Kießling - without a goal in his last 12 games - had clashed heads with Ömer Toprak, but the six-time Germany international is expected to lead the line.
The game will also likely showcase a trio of South Korean talent as
Heung-Min Son lines up against Mainz duo
Joo-Ho Park and Ja-Cheol Koo, and Son is hopeful of getting one over on his compatriots. “We know each other well I’m looking forward to facing them on Saturday. Mainz are having a great season. Not everyone expected them to be where they are, but they deserve to be there. I’m expecting a hard-fought and very close game,” continued the man who scored three times against Mainz for former club Hamburger SV last season.
Leverkusen: Leno - Donati, Wollscheid, Toprak, Boenisch - Rolfes, Bender, Reinartz- Sam, Son, Kießling
Mainz: Karius - Pospech, Bell, Noveski, Diaz - Geis - Moritz, Soto - Koo, Choupo-Moting - Okazaki
Check out Park and Koo's first taste of Carnival in Mainz, courtesy of the official Bundesliga YouTube channel: