Two sides on opposite ends of the Bundesliga standings face off on Saturday afternoon as Bayer Leverkusen hosts Werder Bremen at the BayArena.
Leverkusen will be desperate for all three points considering their last two results. They first lost to Bayern Munich in heartbreaking fashion, as Robert Lewandowski scored a 93rd minute winner, before then falling to Eintracht Frankfurt. The most disappointing thing for Die Werkself is that they took the lead in both contests, but they just couldn’t get the job done on either occasion.
Bremen come into this contest off the back of arguably their worst performance of the season, as they were easily beaten by Union Berlin at home. The Green-Whites were woeful defensively and just never got going on the attack. As a result, they never had a chance of winning on the day, and the result kept them close to the bottom three.
Leverkusen are in the midst of an injury crisis, so they’ll be without several key players for this contest.
Fullbacks Mitchell Weiser and Santiago Arias are both unavailable for selection, while Charles Aranguiz will miss out as well. Exequiel Palacios is still dealing with a back issue, and Paulinho has yet to recover from a knee injury, so neither of them will feature either.
The Bender brothers are also listed as doubtful, as Lars and Sven might be forced to settle for cameos off the bench.
Things are a bit better for Bremen, but the situation is far from perfect. Milot Rashica won’t be back just yet as he lacks match fitness, while Christian Groß and Patrick Erras have both been ruled out for a number of weeks due to muscle issues.
Top scorer Niclas Fullkrug made his return to the team last weekend off the bench, but he’ll only feature as a substitute once again this time around.
Bayer Leverkusen: Hradecky, Dragovic, Tah, Tapsoba, Sinkgraven, Baumgartlinger, Wirtz, Amiri, Bailey, Alario, Diaby
Werder Bremen: Pavlenka, Gebre Selassie, Veljkovic, Friedl, Augustinsson, Eggestein, Mbom, Chong, Schmid, Selke, Sargent
Ones to watch
When Leverkusen sold Kai Havertz over the summer, many wondered just how the club were going to replace a talent like him. Some thought they would use the money they gained from his sale to buy someone else, but they decided to turn to another academy product instead.
Florian Wirtz made his debut at the end of last season in a game against Bremen, but he’s really stepped up this campaign. He’s already become a crucial part of the first team, only missing two matches in all competitions.
Filling right into that vacated attacking midfield role, Wirtz is a dynamo going forward. He can pass and shoot with equal ease, which is proven by his five goals and six assists in 19 appearances. He’s been the main creative outlet for Leverkusen, and he was a key reason why the team was doing so well a few weeks ago.
They’re low on confidence at the moment, though, so someone needs to step up. Wirtz may only be 17 years old, but it seems like he’s ready to take on the responsibility.
Simply put, Bremen need a spark offensively.
The Green-Whites were never the most threatening going forward, and the aforementioned injuries to the likes of Rashica and Fullkrug haven’t helped the situation. As a result, the team has been toothless in attack, relying on crosses or set pieces to get goals.
Something needs to change, and that could be the addition of Tahith Chong into the starting lineup. The Manchester United loanee has had a tough season so far, struggling for game time and often settling for cameos off the bench. He’s shown signs of promise when given the chance, though, so he deserves to start.
It’s not like anyone else has done much better. Leonardo Bittencourt hasn’t been at his best for a while now, while Yuya Osako just isn’t good enough at this stage. Bremen need someone to come in and make an impact out on the wing, and that person could be Chong. His speed and dribbling ability would bring a new dynamic to the side, opening up space for teammates like striker Josh Sargent.
The Green-Whites have nothing to lose and a lot to gain by starting Chong on Saturday.
Last time out
The last time these two sides faced off was quite notable, as it was each team’s first game back following the hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The contest predictably took some time to get going, but it kicked into high gear near the half hour mark with three goals in the span of five minutes. It all started when Moussa Diaby picked out Kai Havertz at the backpost with a sublime cross, and the present-day Chelsea man rose highest to head home from close range.
Bremen equalized moments later courtesy of a corner. Leonardo Bittencourt whipped in a perfect cross into the area where Theodor Gebre Selassie was on hand to flick the ball past Lukas Hradecky and into the back of the net.
Leverkusen retook the lead in no time, though. It would be another Havertz header, as he got on the end of a set piece from Kerem Demirbay to put his side back in front.
Die Werkself would put the contest to bed at the hour mark. Coming from yet another cross, Diaby was able to find an onrushing Mitchell Weiser in the area who powered a header past a helpless Jiri Pavlenka. They would add one more before fulltime as Demirbay snuck behind the Bremen backline before delicately chipping the goalkeeper from only a few yards out.
The result showcased the gulf in class between the two teams, which was also proven by the final league table at the end of the season. Leverkusen qualified for the Europa League, while Bremen only stayed up after winning the relegation-playoff.
How to watch
The contest will be aired live on BT Sport 3 in the UK, while those in the United States can see the same on ESPN +.