Leverkusen midfielder Gonzalo Castro (r.) scored in the 1-1 draw in Hanover last season and is set to return to first-team action this weekend
Leverkusen midfielder Gonzalo Castro (r.) scored in the 1-1 draw in Hanover last season and is set to return to first-team action this weekend
Bundesliga

Top-six hopefuls take centre-stage on Saturday

Cologne - While FC Bayern München, Borussia Dortmund and VfL Wolfsburg are stealing the Matchday 12 limelight, the remaining Bundesliga fixtures on a jam-packed Saturday afternoon do not pale in comparison with several European contenders vying for potentially pivotal points near the top-flight summit.

Hannover 96 - Bayer 04 Leverkusen

bundesliga.com

takes a closer look at this Saturday's action...

Just two points and as many places in the Bundesliga standings separate Hannover and Bayer Leverkusen, yet it’s the UEFA Champions League representatives that trail Tayfun Korkut’s confident high-flying 96ers. Currently in the midst of a three-game winning streak, helped greatly by the

indispensible Ron-Robert Zieler

going 285 minutes without conceding, the Reds’ remit is to, at the very least, hold on to fourth place. “My team have not rested during the hiatus - quite the opposite. In the last two weeks, they’ve been fully focussed and engaged and have been training at a very high tempo,” said Korkut. “We’re expecting a lot of ourselves against Bayer 04. The

Werkself

are a top side and we’ll have to push ourselves to the limit.”

Misfiring Werkself

Ominously for Leverkusen the away team hasn’t taken three points from this fixture in the last 13 meetings, yet having picked up just a sole victory in their six most recent league outings, this weekend’s encounter has turned into one of a must-win variety. “Right off the bat, the game against Hannover will be a difficult one for us,” admitted head coach Roger Schmidt. “But we’ve used the last two weeks to the best of our ability and are optimistic that we can get a result against them.” In order to do that striker Stefan Kießling will likely have to break his

814-minute goalscoring duck

, while Bayer’s midfield has received a boost with both captain

Simon Rolfes

and Gonzalo Castro returning to first-team training after injuries. “It’s important that they’re back because the long-term injuries to Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Stefan Reinartz have caused problems and forced us to improvise,” continued Schmidt. “We need them because they're crucial to the way we play.”

Borussia Mönchengladbach - Eintracht Frankfurt

Though Christoph Kramer’s

calamitous own goal

ended a club-record unbeaten start to the season in Dortmund, back on home soil, where they’re undefeated in ten, Mönchengladbach are hoping to respond against a side they’ve already beaten once this season. A 2-1 win over Frankfurt back last month saw the Foals reach the DFB Cup third round and, having lost ground on the top two after the

1-0 loss

to BVB, Lucien Favre’s charges will be keen to replicate that result on Saturday.

In the wake of that defeat Max Kruse admitted that "we knew we were never going to go the whole season unbeaten”, but the Foals' ability to bounce back from a setback could arguably be a

defining factor

in determining their fortunes. Accordingly, Favre is taking Eintracht anything but lightly. “They're very compact and will make life difficult for us,” said the Swiss tactician, who is expected to replace the injured Kramer (back) with a fit-again

Granit Xhaka

in defensive midfield.

Frankfurt’s slippery slope

Favre, meanwhile, admitted that “the cup cannot be compared to the Bundesliga”, but his counterpart Thomas Schaaf believes the second-round defeat could serve his side well as they look to return to winning ways. “We're measuring ourselves up against a very strong side, who are having a fantastic season,” said the Eagles’ head coach. “Gladbach will stay true to their [attacking] style of play, but we’ve got to prove that we learnt from the last meeting.” Having suffered defeat just once in the opening seven matches of the season, Frankfurt have now lost four consecutive fixtures, conceding an average of over three goals per game in that time. The dip in form has left them only three points off the

foot of the table

and in dire need of a positive result. “We’ve got to get more stuck into the challenges, make sure we don’t give our opponents any space. And we have to be more clinical in possession,” concluded Schaaf.

1. FSV Mainz 05 - SC Freiburg

Mainz and Freiburg went into the international break in quite different veins of form. A month ago this weekend’s hosts set a club best-mark by preserving an unbeaten record eight games into the season, but the 05ers have failed to pick up three points since and now find themselves in a state of limbo in mid-table. “It’s a very, very important game,” underlined coach Kasper Hjulmand referring to the Freiburg encounter. “After Saturday, there'll either be one, four or seven points between us and Freiburg.” Mainz's aim of course is to ensure the latter is true come the game's conclusion and, following a two-week lay-off in which several stars built up their confidence on the international circuit, Saturday presents a perfect opportunity. “After the

home defeat to Bremen

it’s especially important to win again at the Coface Arena,” urged Hjulmand.

Bogey team blues?

For Freiburg the international break perhaps came at an inopportune time, as they followed up a DFB Cup victory and their first win of the season with a

2-0 triumph

over FC Schalke 04 on Matchday 11, which moved them clear of the bottom three. “We’ve been able to collect three straight wins of late and naturally, we want to build on that in Mainz,” said Christian Günter, who scored the opener against Schalke. Head coach Christian Streich claimed Freiburg were “well aware of the reasons behind our success in the last few matches”, and hinted that he won’t be “wildly rotating” his side in the hopes of maintaining that momentum. One man all but guaranteed to start is Czech midfielder

Vladimir Darida

, who covered an astonishing 13.9km a fortnight ago and might need to put in a similar shift on Saturday if Freiburg are to end a run of seven games without a win over Mainz.