Leverkusen - Given that title celebrations and relegation teeth-gnashing are dominating the headlines in the build-up to the Bundesliga 2013/14 finale, it would be easy to write off the rest of the fixtures as a mere garnish to the main Matchday 34 meal.
Champions League aim
However, that would be to ignore the simmering undercurrent of tension brewing at the BayArena ahead of Bayer 04 Leverkusen’s meeting with SV Werder Bremen (kick-off 13:30 GMT/15:30 CET) on Saturday.
Victory would secure Leverkusen a place in the UEFA Champions League qualifying round at the very least next season, a reward that would be fitting for a team that has spent 32 of the 33 matchdays so far inside the top four. However, with both VfL Wolfsburg and Borussia Mönchengladbach still mathematically able to pip them to the post, die Werkself cannot afford any slip-ups against a Bremen side that beat them 1-0 earlier this season.
“We’re completely focused on winning in order to qualify for the Champions League,” said interim head coach Sascha Lewandowski, who will take charge of his final game before making way for incoming boss Roger Schmidt. “The team has shown many times that they’re capable of dealing with these kind of high-pressure situations. Bremen will be a tough opponent but we want to achieve whatever we still can this term.”
Leverkusen will once again be without the services of injured top scorer Stefan Kießling, who will be replaced up front by Eren Derdiyok, although Lewandowski can call upon and , who were nominated for the preliminary South Korea and Germany World Cup squads respectively this week. “I’m delighted,” said the latter of his selection. “It shows that I’ve been performing well over the last two years.” One more battling display on Saturday would be a welcome sight for the Leverkusen faithful.
There may be little more than pride at stake for the visiting players come kick-off, with European qualification out of reach and their top-flight status recently secured for another season, but head coach Robin Dutt will be eager to get the better of his former employers, who released him after 28 matches in the 2011/12 campaign.
That will be no easy feat, however, given only three Bundesliga clubs have conceded more goals than Bremen’s 64 this season. The Grün-Weißen have also shipped an average of over two per game on their travels this term.
“Of course we’ve been through bad patches but we stepped up at decisive moments and got the points we needed,” said captain Sebastian Prödl. The key man on those occasions has been Aaron Hunt, who hit a brace last week in his final home appearance for Bremen before departing at the end of the season. Another match-winning display here from the attacking midfielder would be a fitting swansong to his 13-year acquaintance with the club.
Leverkusen: Leno - Donati, Spahic, Toprak, Boenisch - Bender, Can - Brandt, Castro, Son - Derdiyok
Bremen: Wolf - Fritz, Prödl, Caldirola, Garcia - Gebre Selassie, Bargfrede, Makiadi, Junuzovic - Hunt - di Santo
Take a look at Bremen star Aaron Hunt's send-off following his last home game for the club on the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel: