Bayer Leverkusen will look to take a big step toward automatic qualification for the Champions League on Saturday as they take on Bayern Munich at the BayArena.
Roger Schmidt’s side currently stand fourth in the Bundesliga table, two points behind Borussia Monchengladbach.
Under ordinary circumstances, Leverkusen would be heavy underdogs against the Bavarian giants. But with Bayern having clinched the Bundesliga title a week ago, hit by a long list of injuries and ailing after a grueling, 120-minute marathon on Tuesday that ended in their elimination from the DFB-Pokal, the tables are tilted far more favorably for the Werkself than one might expect.
Pep Guardiola will most likely rest many of his starters from Tuesday and give a run-out to some of Bayern’s younger talents. Gianluca Gaudino and Sinan Kurt are among the candidates to play from the start, along with fringe players like Mitchell Weiser, who’s enjoyed an increased role in recent weeks, and Sebastian Rode.
Although the result will be of little significance to the team’s final standing in the league, the game will be hugely important for the more overlooked members of Guardiola’s squad.
The last time Bayern and Leverkusen met head-to-head, the match went to penalties, before the Munich giants prevailed to advance to the Pokal semifinal. Although the teams will be different, fans can hope for a repeat of all the energy and intensity of that clash on Saturday.
Date: Saturday, May 2
Time: 5:30 p.m. BST/12:30 p.m. ET
Venue: BayArena, Leverkusen
TV Info: GolTV (U.S. only), Not available (UK only)
Live Stream: GolTV (U.S. only), ESPN (via BT Sports client, UK only)
|Cologne: draw||Dortmund: draw|
|Hannover: win||Hertha: win|
|Mainz: win||Porto: win|
|Bayern: draw||Hoffenheim: win|
|Hamburg: win||Porto: loss|
On Tuesday, Arjen Robben made his first appearance for Bayern after an injury layoff, but he lasted just a few minutes before picking up a new injury to his calf. He’ll miss out on the action, as will Robert Lewandowski, who picked up a nasty facial injury in midweek. David Alaba, Franck Ribery and Holger Badstuber are also sidelined.
On the other hand, Javi Martinez is back in contention for a spot in the lineup after recovering from a cruciate ligament tear. It may be too soon for the Spaniard to start, however, so Dante and Jerome Boateng are the most likely starting pair in central defense.
Mitch Weiser and Sinan Kurt are likely to start in defense and attack, respectively, while Lewandowski's absence gives Claudio Pizarro a rare chance to lead the line up front. His support will likely be Kurt, Mario Gotze and Thomas Muller, while Sebastian Rode and Bastian Schweinsteiger should be rested enough to feature in defensive midfield.
Leverkusen will be without Gonzalo Castro, after the midfielder sustained a knee injury that will keep him sidelined for the remainder of the season, as well as Kyriakos Papadopoulos. The Greek's absence means that youngster Tin Jedvaj will likely start in central defense alongside Omer Toprak, flanked by Wendell on the left and Roberto Hilbert on the right.
In Castro's absence, Simon Rolfes is the most likely candidate in midfield along with Lars Bender. The front four will likely be Stefan Kiessling supported by Karim Bellarabi, Hakan Calhanoglu and either Heung-Min Son or in-form teenager Julian Brandt.
Players to watch
For Bayern, all eyes will be on the likes of Weiser, who pulled a rabbit out of his hat last weekend to assist Bastian Schweinsteiger’s winner, and teenagers like Gaudino and Kurt as they look to make the next step in their respective careers. Given all the many injuries Bayern have to cope with, the youngsters may be their best chance to grind out a result.
Leverkusen have a teenage shooting star as well in Julian Brandt, who has scored a pair of exquisite goals in the last few weeks. He may not start, but he certainly can expect to feature at some point. Otherwise, Karim Bellarabi’s pace and Hakan Calhanoglu’s set pieces could pose a danger for Bayern.
Karim Bellarabi versus Mitchell Weiser
Bellarabi and Weiser will be among the most athletic players on the pitch, with each featuring blistering pace and seemingly limitless stamina. Weiser played well in the Pokal loss on Tuesday, and his energy could be key for the visitors as they try to unlock the Leverkusen defense.
The attacker has similar weapons, his foot speed being a big danger for a Bayern defense that typically plays with a high line. He dribbles well and can play in tight spaces, and that could be decisive for the hosts.
Wendell versus Thomas Muller
When Leverkusen signed Wendell, they aimed to find a long-term solution to what had become a recurring problem on the left of defense. The Brazilian may be young, but he's been excellent to date, his skill going forward and athleticism in defense making him a very well-rounded player. He'll have his hands full with Thomas Muller, though: The World Cup winner needs no introduction.
Muller has been in great form this season and is just two assists short of reaching the 20-goal/20-assist mark in all competitions for the first time in his career. He's been Bayern's most consistent attacker this season, and in the absence of Robben, Ribery and Lewandowski, the onus will be on him to score the needed goals.
Odds (courtesy of Odds Shark)