Bayer, currently top of the group, first have to complete their own objective by beating the Viennese outfit, but will be making plans for the last 32 well in advance if Metalist Kharkiv can defeat Rosenborg SK in the Group K's other game.
Momentum with die Werkself
Sealing a passage to the next phase with two games remaining may have seemed an unrealistic target after Matchday 1, a frustrating 0-0 draw at home to Kharkiv. In the weeks since, however, Bayer have managed to negotiate the burden of competing in three competitions and have rediscovered that winning formula, so much so that premature qualification seems like just reward for their efforts.
Since losing to Borussia Dortmund on Matchday 3 in the Bundesliga, the team have strung together an unbeaten run of eleven matches and lie fourth in the domestic table. Key players are also returning to form, such as Stefan Kießling, the highest-scoring player in the Bundesliga in 2012 and Andre Schürrle, on target in last weekend's 3-2 win over Fortuna Düsseldorf.
Hyypiä demands the maximum
Confidence is understandably high amongst the players, not only after their long undefeated run but also because of the reverse fixture in Vienna two weeks ago, when Bayer ran out comfortable 4-0 winners. “At home we believe we have what it takes to reach the next round,” said Gonzalo Castro, scorer of a brace in that game. Those sentiments were echoed by head coach Hyypiä, who nevertheless sounded a note of caution. “This is a new match where we have to be concentrated from the off. Five or ten per cent less and it will be difficult for us,” said the Finn.
The home side will be without first choice goalkeeper Bernd Leno, as he continues his recovery from an elbow injury, meaning Michael Rensing will continue to deputise between the sticks. Elsewhere, Karim Bellarabi and Renato Augusto are also out injured, but Sidney Sam and Schürrle are both fit to feature, with Kießling set to lead the attack.
Leverkusen: Rensing - Carvajal, Wollscheid, Toprak, Hosogai - Reinartz, Bender - Sam, Castro, Schürrle - Kießling
Rapid Vienna: Königshofer - Trimmel, Sonnleitner, Gerson, Katzer - Kulovits, Heikkinen - Prager, Ildiz, Drazan - Alar