Bayer 04 Leverkusen are hitting form at exactly the right time, with FC Schalke 04 faltering as the two European aspirants go head-to-head at the VELTINS Arena on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 15:30CEST/13:30GMT).
Schalke have dropped eight points in the previous three games, with last Saturday's 3-0 loss at league leaders FC Bayern München punctuating a run of form that has seen the Royal Blues fall four points shy of the UEFA Champions League places ahead of Matchday 31. With winnable-looking matches against Hannover 96, FC Augsburg and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim to follow, coach Andre Breitenreiter was understandably curt when questioned on his future this week, saying at his post-match press conference: "I am the Schalke coach and I will be the Schalke coach next season. I don't have to put up with this now."
Leverkusen will hope to capitalise on Schalke's wobbly form as they look to seal their sixth Bundesliga win in a row. Leverkusen went third with last week's 3-0 win over relegation-threatened Eintracht Frankfurt, but Roger Schmidt's men have an unenviable run-in, with Hertha Berlin and Borussia Mönchengladbach still to play after the Schalke game. Die Werkself are sweating on the fitness of 16-goal top scorer Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez, with the Mexican picking up a bruised shin against Frankfurt.
Matchday 14 rewind: Leverkusen 1-1 Schalke
Matchday 31 - match stats
- Leverkusen come into Matchday 30 in third for the first time since Matchday 21. Three wins from their remaining four games should guarantee they stay there, given Die Werkself's superior goal difference over Hertha Berlin. Leverkusen have won each of their last five games, scoring 11 goals in that time. They have not conceded since the 3-3 draw with FC Augsburg on Matchday 25.That means Leverkusen have not conceded in six games - 540 minutes - in all competitions, which is a new club record. This is Leverkusen's longest winning streak in a year. Roger Schmidt's team won seven games in a row between Matchday 23 and Matchday 29 last season - a run which included a 1-0 win over Schalke.Schalke are in seventh, six points behind Leverkusen in the third and final automatic UEFA Champions League qualification position, and four points behind Hertha Berlin in fourth, which is sufficient to qualify for the Champions League play-off round.Chicharitoplayed his 25th Bundesliga game in last Saturday's 3-0 win for Leverkusen over Eintracht Frankfurt, coming off in the 70th minute with a bruised shin.Frustrated last week, the Mexico striker has nonetheless set new standards in his Bundesliga career. Chicharito has scored on average every 119 minutes he has played. Amongst players with at least as many games as the 27-year-old, only Gerd Müller (a goal every 105 minutes) and Mario Gomez (113 minutes) have been more prolific.Schalke lost both encounters with Leverkusen last season 1-0, with Hakan Calhanoglu getting the only goal of Matchday 9's encounter at the BayArena, and Karim Bellarabi separating the sides at the VELTINS Arena on Matchday 26.
Schalke: Fährmann - Junior Caicara, Matip, Neustädter, Kolasinac - Geis, Höjbjerg - Sane, Belhanda, Meyer - Huntelaar
Absentees: Höwedes, Uchida (both light training), Goreztka (shoulder), Sam (muscle injury)
Coach: Andre Breitenreiter
Leverkusen: Leno - Jedvaj, Tah, Toprak, Wendell - Bender, Aranguiz - Bellarabi, Calhanoglu, Brandt - Chicharito
Absentees: Boenisch (thigh), Papadopoulos (calf)
Coach: Roger Schmidt