1. FC Köln vs Bayer Leverkusen preview: Who will end out on top in the Rhine derby?

1. FC Köln vs Bayer Leverkusen preview: Who will end out on top in the Rhine derby?

The last week of Bundesliga games before the winter break is under way, ending with a Christmas cracker between seventh and eighth.

Lewis Clouting

The Rhine derby Kicks off today which will see 8th place Bayer Leverkusen travel to the local RheinEnergieStadion in search of three points against 7th place 1. FC Köln. Both teams go into the game after reflectively sobering weeks of football, as neither could come out of match-week 15 with three points.

This game, including five others, will cap off the 2016 period of Bundesliga football, as players, coaches and everyone in-between are given a month off to indulge in Christmas duties. This game is set to be a Christmas cracker in German football, as both teams are fighting for a finish in the top six at a point in the league where points and league-table numbers are intrinsically becoming more valuable.

A minute silence is also to be expected to take place before the beginning of the game, as the country griefs the victims of the horrific terror attack that occurred in Berlin on Monday night.

Julian Brandt set to return for Leverkusen

Amongst the positive notions for Leverkusen and head coach Roger Schmidt is the potential return of 21-year-old Julian Brandt, who is said to have travelled with the team to Cologne. Brandt amongst a plethora of others has become a main at Bayer Leverkusen, with 1469 minutes, three goals and six assists to his name this season, he is a creative asset that Schmidt has needed to pull off the fast and prolific style his team have adopted since the start of the season.

His absence in the 1-2 defeat to FC Ingolstadt last weekend was argued to be one of the main reasons Leverkusen failed to produce more playing at home, subsequently speaking to his influence as a player.

This will be the main point of concern for Roger Schmidt going into the game, as continuing to drop points will pull them further away from their target to achieve another season of champions league football. He will also have to go to cologne do this without some of his key players, notably Benjamin Henrichs and Stefan Kießling who both missed the Ingolstadt game with muscular injuries are likely to not make a return until after the winter break. Chilean midfielder Charles Aranguiz will also miss out due to suspension.

Köln remain in injury crisis, Stöger forced to adapt

Much like the situation Leverkusen find themselves in, Peter Stöger and FC Köln have been plagued with injuries recently. A troupe of starters including the likes of, Timo Horn, Leonardo Bittencourt, Matthias Lehmann, Dominic Maroh and Marcel Risse remain part of the long injury list for 1. FC Köln, which has caused Peter Stöger to improvise a somewhat weaker starting eleven in recent weeks.

The Austrian tactician will have to shuffle his pack again when Bayer Leverkusen come calling in the Rhine derby this Wednesday.

In terms of absentees for his side, Marco Höger is another that got banned after picking up a fifth yellow card of the season in the 1-1 draw at SV Werder Bremen last time out. His likely replacement in central midfield will be 18 year-old Salih Özcan, who is available again for the final game of the year as he comes out of suspension.

Predicted line-ups

Bayer Leverkusen (4-2-3-1) Leno; Jedvaj, Tah, Dragovic, Wendell; Baumgartlinger, Kampl; Çalhanoğlu, Brandt Mehmedi; Chicharito.

1. FC Köln (4-4-2) Kessler; Sörensen, Mavraj, Heintz, Hector; Olkowski, Rausch, Özcan, Osako; Modeste, Rudnevs.