Cologne - Top-four hopefuls Bayer 04 Leverkusen can take a step closer to UEFA Champions League qualification this weekend, while a host of relegation-threatened sides have a golden opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the bottom on Matchday 29.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen - Hannover 96
bundesliga.com previews the action in an intriguing trio of matches on Saturday afternoon...
Out of both cup competitions, Leverkusen’s focus is now exclusively on the Bundesliga and finishing in the UEFA Champions League places, a remit that is currently going completely according to plan.
Victory at 1. FSV Mainz 05 last week, Bayer's sixth straight win in the league, opened up a ten-point gap over fifth place, and they will be confident of extending that run against a Hannover side that last won this fixture in September 2012. Nevertheless, coach Roger Schmidt is taking no chances in his preparation. “The relegation battle is extremely tight and like every team, I expect Hannover to be extremely focused in the final few games.”
Korkut 'ignoring the stats'
Indeed, the 96ers need points for a very different reason. and having taken just five points from 11 games all year, the Reds are only two points and one place ahead of the relegation play-off spot and just about keeping their heads above water.
With six games remaining, it is now time to sink or swim for Tayfun Korkut’s side. “We want to ignore the stats and do things our own way," said the 41-year-old. "I’m expecting an unbelievably tough game. We have to give it everything we have and show a lot of passion and guts. Otherwise we’ll have no chance.“
Hertha Berlin - 1. FC Köln
An impressive run of three wins and three draws has propelled Hertha Berlin to the relative safety of 12th in the standings, although coach Pal Dardai says his players are by no means thinking of their summer holidays just yet.
"I don't need to motivate the players; they're motivated enough. In my opinion, this is a game between two even sides that will be decided by who plays better on the day, so we have to be prepared well enough to make sure that we're the better team," said the Hungarian, who is likely to pair in-form striking duo Salomon Kalou and Valentin Stocker once again.
Stöger expecting a close game
1. FC Köln, for their part, come into the game with similarly high levels of confidence after beating TSG 1899 Hoffenheim 3-2 in one of the games of the season last Sunday.
In contrast to that encounter, though, Billy Goats' coach Peter Stöger is anticipating an altogether closer affair in the capital. "I don't think it will be an open game like last week. It's tough to create chances against them. They run a lot and are very organised, so I think it'll be a very tough game."
SC Freiburg - 1. FSV Mainz 05
Christian Streich’s SC Freiburg have also picked up valuable points in the relegation battle of late, but not even two wins and a draw at FC Schalke 04 have hauled the Black Forest club out of the woods just yet. They still sit just two points above 16th place ahead of a run of in the wider context of the relegation battle: Mainz at home, VfB Stuttgart away, SC Paderborn at home and Hamburger SV away.
Streich’s priority is the here and now, however. “We’re focusing on ourselves to make sure that we stay calm and keep our cool. On Saturday, we have to go out on to the pitch with our heads and legs as free as possible,” he said.
Spoils to be shared?
Mainz, meanwhile, have a little more room to breathe in 13th place and with a four-point cushion over the relegation play-off spot, but will no doubt welcome a rare win - they have just six all season - to take a step closer to survival for another season.
Coach Martin Schmidt spoke of the need to defend with “bravery and tactical savvy” as one of the conditions for a positive result, but the statistics say that a stalemate could be on the cards. Mainz are the league’s draw specialists this season with 13, while Freiburg have done so 11 times. Both of those are club records for a single campaign.