Josip Drmic's (l.) Nürnberg and Stefan Kießling's Leverkusen are looking in opposite directions at present
Josip Drmic's (l.) Nürnberg and Stefan Kießling's Leverkusen are looking in opposite directions at present

Nürnberg in freefall as Bayer roll into town

Nuremberg - Relegation-threatened 1. FC Nürnberg will attempt to halt a run of three straight league defeats when they welcome UEFA Champions League-chasing Bayer 04 Leverkusen to the Grundig Stadion in Matchday 31's early game on Sunday (kick-off: 13:30 GMT/15:30 CET).

Momentum the key?

Once a giant of the German game, the proud club from Franconia are on the brink of dropping out of the top flight for the first time since 2008. Gertjan Verbeek’s side can also expect no favours from a Bayer side in confident mood under a new coach and chasing fourth in the table.

At this stage of the season, momentum is everything. Unfortunately for der Club, however, they are in utterly the wrong kind of form coming into the campaign’s home straight. They have lost seven of their last eight matches, conceding 2.6 goals per game, and are even in danger of being caught by Eintracht Braunschweig, bottom of the table since Matchday 3, yet just a point behind Nürnberg.

Verbeek is not one to lose hope, however. In his pre-match press conference, the Dutch tactician spoke of his team’s “unbroken will to achieve what is still possible," and in fact, as important as form can be, he can take inspiration from how quickly things can change in a league as unpredictable as the Bundesliga. Hannover 96, for example, had lost four straight games before Matchday 30, but are now virtually safe after two straight victories.

Bayer the bogey team

Nevertheless, points are what Verbeek and Co. need, and Leverkusen at home is not a game many fans would have earmarked as one which would bear fruit. Bayer put an end to their own miserable run of form last weekend by beating Hertha Berlin, only their second win in 11 matches, and have come out on top in their last four meetings against Nürnberg.

Die Werkself have been boosted by a return to normality in the last fortnight since the appointment of Sascha Lewandowski as sole head coach following Sami Hyypiä's departure on 5 April. The man who had previously coached the club's youth team knows the club inside out and, in view of last week’s win over Hertha, appears ready to achieve his goal of securing, at the very least, a fourth-placed finish. He is also looking to repeat past successes in northern Bavaria.

Striking battle

“Last season we won there 2-0 to qualify for the Champions League and two years ago, we won 4-1 to get into the Europa League,” remembered the 42-year-old. “But this will be a huge test for us. Nürnberg will give it everything they have. They will have a real go up front, and everyone knows about the class of Josip Drmic.”

Indeed, Swiss international Drmic has netted 16 times so far this season, and Nürnberg’s survival looks like it may depend on the 21-year-old’s goalscoring ability. The former FC Zürich man also has one more than Leverkusen's Stefan Kießling, a former Nürnberg player intent on defending his Torjägerkanone from last season. Both men are likely to be at the centre of events this weekend.

Possible line-ups:

Nürnberg: Schäfer - Balitsch, Stark, Pogatetz, Pinola - Frantz - Feulner, Kiyotake, Campana, Plattenhardt - Drmic

Leverkusen: Leno - Donati, Spahic, Toprak, Boenisch - Can, Bender, Rolfes - Castro, Son, Kießling

Bernie Reeves