Schalke 04 vs. Bayer Leverkusen: Battle for UCL Spot

Schalke 04 crowd at Veltins Arena (Wikimedia Commons)

Schalke 04 crowd at Veltins Arena (Wikimedia Commons)

This Saturday, the Bundesliga’s 3rd and 4th placed teams will square off when Schalke host Bayer Leverkusen at the Veltins-Arena. The match is particularly contentious as the two clubs are just four points apart in the Bundesliga table. A win for 3rd placed Leverkusen would provide a massive boost in terms of their Champions League qualification hopes, while a win for 4th placed Schalke would move them that much closer to that precious 3rd place, which subsequently ensures direct qualification into the Champions League. Ending the season in fourth wouldn’t be a huge loss for either side as the fourth placed team in the Bundesliga must qualify for the UEFA Champions League and given how good both teams are, either team would be one of the favorites to advance out of the qualification process.

Bayer Leverkusen had occupied second place for a decent portion of the season but in their last six matches, they’ve lost twice, drawn twice and won twice, allowing Borussia Dortmund to jump Leverkusen in the table. Schalke have been the team in better form of late, winning five of their last six matches, with their only dropped points coming in a disappointing loss against Nurnberg.

For a good part of the season, Schalke have been without some of their better players, most notably star striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar who will remain sidelined with an eye injury. The Royal Blues will also be without young center back standout Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Lars Unnerstall, Ibrahim Afellay, Jefferson Farfan and Tranquillo Barnetta due to injury while Roman Neustader is suspended and Chinedu Obasi is unfit. Stefan Reinartz and Sebastian Boenisch will miss out for Leverkusen due to suspension while Karim Bellarbi is unfit and Gonzalo Castro is listed as doubtful. Given the importance of the match, Castro will almost certainly be included in the Lowen starting eleven as he’s been one of their best players this season.

Even though the match is being played at their home stadium, Schalke have to be considered as underdogs as they’ll be fielding a side without Afellay, Papadopoulos, Huntelaar and Farfan. Captain Benedikt Howedes will need to have an inspired performance in order to quell the threat of the Bundesliga’s third best offense. Jermaine Jones, Marco Hoger and Joel Matip will also need to step up on the defensive side of the ball. Julian Draxler and Michel Bastos provide a lot of talent on the wings with the young German international touted as being a future world-beater and the experience and dynamism of former Lyon star Michel Bastos.

Leverkusen have one of the better offenses in the Bundesliga, led by striker Stefan Kiessling who has been one of Europe’s best players this season. Andre Schurrle and Gonzalo Castro have also elevated their play this season and are a huge reason why Leverkusen has enjoyed so much success this season. Lars Bender, Simon Rolfes, Michal Kadlec, Philipp Wollscheid and Daniel Carvajal have been playing some great football and comprise a Leverkusen defense that’s allowing just over a goal per game.

It’s unfortunate that Schalke are without so many of their better players as this had the makings of one of the matches of the season. Leverkusen has such a potent offense and one wouldn’t bet against them scoring, meaning that Schalke will have to get goals in order to contend with their Saturday opponents and will likely lean heavily on their young star Draxler. Look for set pieces to play a huge part as Bastos has a dynamite free kick and Joel Matip is dangerous in the air. The Kiessling-Schurrle combination has become one of the better forward duos in the Bundesliga and look for the two German internationals to give the Schalke back-line fits.

Projected Lineups

Schalke 04:  Timo Hildebrand, Sead Kolasinac, Joel Matip, Benedikt Howedes, Atsuto Uchida, Jermaine Jones, Marco Hoger, Michel Bastos, Raffael, Julian Draxler, Ciprian Marica.

Bayer Leverkusen: Bernd Leno, Daniel Carvajal, Daniel Schwaab, Philipp Wollscheid, Michal Kadlec, Lars Bender, Simon Roles, Gonzalo Castro, Sidney Sam, Stefan Kiessling, Andre Schurrle.

Posted in: Analysis, Pre-Match

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