- Schalke need a win to revive their own Champions League hopes
- Leverkusen have overturned a five-point deficit into a six-point lead over Schalke in five Matchdays
- Julian Brandt has inspired Leverkusen's resurgence
The race to join FC Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund as one of the Bundesliga's representatives in the UEFA Champions League next season passes through the VELTINS-Arena this Saturday (kick-off 18:30CEST/16:30GMT) when FC Schalke 04 welcome Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
Fourth-placed Leverkusen have a six-point lead over their hosts, but with four games of the season remaining, plenty can still change in a European scramble which is wide open.
Champions League beckoning
After winning their last five on the spin, Leverkusen can take another huge step towards their stated aim of automatic qualification to the group stage of next season’s UEFA Champions League. Third in the table and with a two-point cushion on fourth-placed Hertha Berlin, Die Werkself hold all the cards, but will be acutely aware that one slip-up could change the complexion of the top four entirely. Should they stumble against seventh-placed Schalke, themselves chasing a European finish, it would blow the race for Champions League football wide open - again.
Still time for a change
Indeed, what a difference five games can make. With Matchday 25 done and dusted, Schalke were fourth in the table and on target for a UEFA Champions League play-off in August. Leverkusen, meanwhile, had slipped off the European radar, down in eighth place and a point adrift of UEFA Europa League qualification. A swing of 11 points has seen Leverkusen take charge of the situation to move into third with Schalke now languishing in seventh, and that turn of events will be a reminder to both teams – with four games of the season to go – of just how quickly things can still change.
The boy's on fire
The German word for fire is 'Brand', so it is fitting that Leverkusen's Julian Brandt is in red-hot form at present, having found the back of the net in each of his past four appearances. Three of those have given his team a 1-0 lead, and all have contributed to precious wins, propelling his team towards Champions League football. His form transformation has coincided with that of his team, and the 19-year-old is once again delivering on his potential.
A similar form explosion is what Schalke now need from their own hotshot Leroy Sane, who scored the last of his six goals this season in the derby draw with Borussia Dortmund. The 20-year-old was on target in three consecutive matches earlier this season, and a repeat of that would be more than welcome to fans in Gelsenkirchen.