Bayer 04 Leverkusen could take a big step towards next season's UEFA Champions League group stages when they welcome fellow European aspirants Hertha Berlin to the BayArena on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 15:30CEST/13:30GMT).
Although separated by just one place, the recent form of third-placed Leverkusen and fourth-placed Hertha could scarcely stand in starker contrast. Leverkusen battled back from two goals down to seal a 3-2 win over FC Schalke 04 last Saturday, and with it their sixth consecutive Bundesliga victory. Another win for Roger Schmidt's men would guarantee their place in next season's UEFA Champions League group stages, and in Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez - who got the winner against Schalke - Die Werkself have a player who has now scored 17 times in his 26 Bundesliga appearances.
Few were surprised to see Hertha lose 2-0 against runaway league leaders FC Bayern München last Saturday, but the tougher pill to swallow for the capital club is that the defeat was their third in four games. Pal Dardai's side occupied third place for eight weeks before their recent disappointing run, and although a single point would secure their participation in Europe next season, settling for the UEFA Europa League after an otherwise impeccable season would be a bittersweet for the Old Lady.
Matchday 15 rewind: Hertha 2-1 Leverkusen
Matchday 32 - match stats
- On only three occasions have Leverkusen enjoyed longer winning runs than their current six-game streak in the Bundesliga. Their top-flight record is eight victories in a row.With FC Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund contesting the DFB Cup final, Leverkusen can finish no lower than seventh and are therefore guaranteed a place in the UEFA Europa League at the very least.If Leverkusen win their next two games against Hertha and Borussia Mönchengladbach, they will be guaranteed third place.Hertha are currently winless in five, losing their last three in the league.Leverkusen were six points behind Hertha after Matchday 25, but have now established a five-point lead over the Berliners.The capital club have only won one of their last nine matches against Leverkusen - the corresponding fixture earlier in the season.Only Bayern have a better record against Hertha than Die Werkself (19 wins, nine defeats and 11 draws).
Leverkusen: Leno - Hilbert, Ramalho, Toprak, Henrichs - Aranguiz, Kampl - Bellarabi, Brandt - Kießling, Chicharito
Absentees: Boenisch (thigh), Papadopoulos (calf), Tah (virus)
Coach: Roger Schmidt
Hertha: Jarstein - Pekarik, Langkamp, Lustenberger, Plattenhardt - Stark, Skjelbred - Weiser, Mittelstädt - Kalou - Ibisevic
Absentees: Darida (knee), Allagui (light training)
Coach: Pal Dardai