FC Schalke vs Bayer Leverkusen Preview: Royal Blues aim to get back to winning ways

FC Schalke vs Bayer Leverkusen Preview: Royal Blues aim to get back to winning ways

Roger Schmidt's Bayer Leverkusen will face a tough task to turn their season around against an in-form Schalke side.

Kaustubh Pandey

Roger Schmidt’s Bayer Leverkusen will face a tough challenge in the form of in-form Schalke as they look to get back to winning ways in the Bundesliga.

Last week's 1-1 stalemate against Freiburg at the BayArena was another one of those frustrating results that Die Werkself have become rather accustomed to achieving.

The 3-0 triumph over Monaco with an almost second-fiddle side was impressive enough and did relieve some pressure from Schmidt’s head. But it's their league form which is most concerning.

As far as Schalke are concerned, their league form can be described as starkly opposite to that of Leverkusen, though they have lost their last two games.

They embarked on a seven-game unbeaten run in the league following a 4-0 thrashing of Borussia Monchengladbach at Veltins Arena, which was ended by a 2-1 defeat to league leaders RB Leipzig last time out, while their European outing at RB Salzburg in mid-week also yielded a 2-0 defeat.

Despite that defeat, which saw Donis Avdijaj come up with an impressive performance, the Royal Blues have already made it through to the knockout rounds of the Europa League by topping their group.

Leverkusen look to get back to winning ways

The season started off in a frustrating fashion for the men in red and black and it has been that way until now. Impressive results have been few and far in between and inconsistencies have left that Leverkusen in ninth place in the Bundesliga table.

Last week's 1-1 draw against newly-promoted Freiburg saw Hakan Calhanoglu score his fourth Bundesliga goal this season, but it is their defensive problems that helped Breisgau-Brasilianer get as many as ten shots of target away.

And their problems have been down to defensive issues more than the attacking ones. They've conceded the single highest amount of goals in the top ten with 21, only less than Mainz, who have let in 25 goals already.

Apart from that, Leverkusen have kept only two clean sheets this season. One during their goalless draw against Freiburg and the second one coming in their 2-0 win over Borussia Dortmund.

The number of goals that they have scored is decent enough (20), helping them maintain a half decent goal difference of - 1.

However, the recent form of first-choice striker Javier Hernandez has come as a bit worry for Schmidt, as the Mexican was Leverkusen’s highest goalscorer last season after having joined from Manchester United.

Hernandez has failed to find the back of the net in eleven games now, which is quite unlike someone with as such fine talent in front of goal as him.

This fixture at the Veltins Arena last season had yielded an entertaining game that saw Leverkusen emerge as 3-2 winners, despite going 2-0 early in the first-half.

A second-half comeback, that saw strikes from Karim Bellarabi, Julian Brandt and Chicharito find the back of the net, had helped Schmidt’s men cement their spot in the top-four.

Schalke aim to carry run forward

Markus Weinzerl's men have probably been one of the most improved sides in the division. It's easy to forget they failed to pick up a win from their first five outings.

But the way they've played after their 4-0 win over Gladbach suggests that it was only a case of getting the momentum back to start winning again.

Table-topping RB Leipzig had condemned the Royal Blues to their first loss since their win over the Foals, but a loss to a side as good as Die Roten Bullen shouldn't be something Schalke must be ashamed of. The performance was a decent one, barring the fact that they fell to 8th in the table.

While Schalke have conceded just as many goals as arch-rivals Borussia Dortmund, their problems lie in front of goal. Injuries to Breel Embolo and veteran Klaas Jan Huntelaar have thinned out their forward line, forcing them to resort to Max Meyer up top, who is more of an attacking midfielder. This is one of the reasons why they have scored less goals than Leverkusen with just 18.

On the defensive front, the Royal Blues have impressed. They've conceded 15 times only and the new three at the back shape is clearly working well.

The occasional four at the back shape has helped Johannes Geis to play to his full potential and shield the back four with his ball recovery abilities. The former Mainz man is probably one of the most underrated players in the squad right now.

Uchida back for Schalke

Japanese full back Atsuto Uchida came back against RB Salzburg after being missing from action for over 600 days and could feature on Sunday.

While his presence could be a positive, Alexander Schopf and Benedikt Howedes will be missing due to their respective suspensions.

Midfielder Nabil Bentaleb is at the risk of suspension and another yellow card could see him miss the Freiburg game.

As far as Leverkusen are concerned, their injury list doesn't help them at all. Kevin Kampl is out due to a foot injury and won't feature will the end of January.

Lars Bender is a doubt due to a heel problem and Admir Mehmedi is likely to miss the game due to a hamstring injury.

Predicted line-ups

Schalke XI: Fahrmann ; Uchida, Nastasic, Naldo; Stambouli; Goretzka, Geis, Bentaleb, Kolasinac; Meyer, Di Santo

Bayer Leverkusen XI: Leno; Heinrichs, Tah, Toprak, Wendell; Havertz, Baumgartlinger, Aranguiz, Brandt; Chicharito, Kiessling.