Bayer Leverkusen take on Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga on Tuesday, with both teams level on points in third and fourth spot in the table.
With Bayern Munich extending their gap to seven points ahead of these two teams, neither club can afford to lose this clash if they are to keep their title aspirations alive.
And with both teams dropping points in their weekend fixtures, they will both be looking to return to winning ways at BayArena in the big match on Matchday 17.
It would be fair to say that Leverkusen’s form has hit the rocks lately – having remained unbeaten in their first 12 league fixtures, they have since lost three and drawn one.
Despite topping the standings prior to their last-gasp defat to Bayern before the winter break, winning the Bundesliga was always going to be a huge task for Peter Bosz’s side. However, the 57-year old will still be expected to deliver Champions League football to BayArena after narrowly missing out last term.
One point from three matches against Eintracht Frankfurt, Werder Bremen and Union Berlin – whom they lost 1-0 to on Saturday – is simply not an acceptable return with those expectations in mind.
Dortmund, meanwhile, showed that they are far from the finished article under Edin Terzic after drawing 1-1 at home to Mainz 05, who had gone into the game bottom of the table. Dropping points at home to lesser opposition seems to be a common theme at BVB, with it repeatedly being costly in terms of ending their wait for a Bundesliga title.
Levin Oztunali opening the scoring with a goal of the season contender, before Thomas Meunier’s equaliser, whilst Marco Reus put a penalty wide of the goal late on. Dortmund dominated the ball, as expected, with Erling Haaland having an effort ruled out to VAR, but the Black & Yellows could not find the breakthrough they needed.
Leverkusen continue to be blighted by injuries. Karim Bellarabi, Mitchell Weiser, Sven Bender, Exequiel Palacios, Santiago Arias and Paulinho are all ruled out of the visit of Dortmund.
Florian Wirtz is a doubt, too, with new signing Timothy Fosu-Mensah unavailable to make his debut after his move from Manchester United due to personal reasons.
Dortmund, meanwhile, are set to be without Axel Witsel until at least late March after the midfielder underwent surgery on his Achilles tendon injury. Emre Can is also suspended, having picked up his fifth booking of the season against Mainz on Saturday.
Marcel Schmelzer and Thorgan Hazard should return sooner than that, but both remain sidelined for the trip to Leverkusen.
Leverkusen: (4-3-3) Hradecky; Bender, Tah, Tapsoba, Sinkgraven; Amiri, Baumgartlinger, Demirbay; Diaby, Alario, Bailey.
Dortmund: (4-2-3-1) Burki; Meunier, Akanji, Hummels, Guerreiro; Bellingham, Delaney; Sancho, Reus, Reyna; Haaland.
Ones to watch
Having started the season in great form, Lucas Alario will be hoping for a return to the starting line up for this important fixture.
The Argentine is yet to start in the Bundesliga since returning from injury in mid-December, with appearances coming from the bench after Patrik Schick impressed in his absence.
With eight goals to date, the striker will be looking to help his side return to winning ways and move within four points of Bayern Munich ahead of their game on Wednesday.
After opening his account for Dortmund on Saturday, Thomas Meunier was not really able to enjoy the occasion as they were held to a draw by Mainz.
“This is not a good result for us,” he said. “We had so many chances, it’s unbelievable that we only scored one goal. There were so many positive things on display.
“My first goal for BVB obviously doesn’t leave me feeling satisfied today. Leverkusen didn’t win, we’ve had so many opportunities to get back into the top three. Something’s been missing every time, we need to work on that.”
The stats promise goals: In the previous 82 meetings between Leverkusen and Dortmund there have been an average of 3.09 goals per game. Seven of those came in the last encounter, with the Werkself winning 4-3 in front of a capacity crowd at the BayArena in February 2020.
Kevin Volland scored twice in the first half either side of Mats Hummels and Emre Can efforts as the teams went in to half time level at 2-2. Raphael Guerreiro made it 3-2 to the visitors going into the last ten minutes, but Leon Bailey and Lars Bender strikes saw the hosts turn the game around to prevail.
To come out on top against a Dortmund side level on points with his side, Peter Bosz is demanding from the team and himself “good football. As that will bring back the good results.”
The Werkself head coach is expecting a different game compared to previous meetings with BVB. Bosz said: “In previous games, Dortmund have always played from a defensive set up. Recently, they have been increasingly playing further forward.
“I’m expecting an open game – with more space available to us than has been the case recently.”
Meanwhile, Edin Terzic is looking for a response from his Dortmund side who are yet to lose in 2021, despite only drawing with Mainz on Saturday.
“We were obviously disappointed with Saturday evening,” said the head coach. “We’ve been over it and it’s good to be moving on quickly. We want to do better.
“In a match against a direct rival, we can not only ensure that we pick up three more points but also that the opposition drop points. We want to round off the first half of the season with a victory.”
How to watch
The Bundesliga fixture will be shown live on BT Sport. The match will kick off at 7.30pm GMT at BayArena.