Klaus Toppmoller’s name is etched in German football folklore as the nearly man who in 2001/2 took Bayer Leverkusen to within weeks of winning a treble of Bundesliga, German Cup and Uefa Champions League titles only to fall at the last hurdle. It was one of the three occasions on which the Bay Arena outfit finished as Bundesliga runners up. They’ve never lasted the distance.
Xabi Alonso is on track to help the current generation of players go one better than the likes of Oliver Neuville, Dimitar Berbatov, Yildiray Basturk, Michael Ballack and Hans Jorg Butt who had to settle for silver. Their most immediate target is wrapping up the crown of Bundesliga winter champions. If Leverkusen achieve maximums at home to Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday and Bochum on Wednesday, December 20, they will have landed a huge psychological blow to principal rivals Bayern Munich, the eleven time defending champions.
On Thursday Leverkusen enhanced their burgeoning reputation by eviscerating Molde 5-1 in the Europa League, their sixth straight win in the competition, to serve up a reminder to rivals that their appetite for victory is undiminished. Czech Republic strikers Patrick Schick and Adam Hlozek are two of six players who should drop back to the bench for the visit of Frankfurt despite getting onto the score sheet in the one sided rout. Despite suffering a 0-2 setback at Aberdeen, the Eagles are dangerous opponents who travel to Leverkusen enamored by a 5-1 whitewash of Bayern Munich.
Thomas Tuchel’s Bavarians responded to their humiliation by edging Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford but they face an equally daunting challenge from rejuvenated Stuttgart who on Sunday travel to the Allianz Arena just one point behind the Rekordmeister. The shoot out between division top scorer Harry Kane and Stuttgart’s Guinean firebrand Serhou Guirassy will provide a fascinating side contest as the two sides try to stay in touch with Alonso’s pacesetters.
Two more salivating duels take place on Saturday afternoon, less than 24 hours after Borussia Moenchengladbach open weekend proceedings at home to Werder Bremen. Edin Terzic’s unpredictable Borussia Dortmund side will try to claw their way back into the top four when they travel to Augsburg while Marco Rose’s RB Leipzig are counting on a strong home record to overcome Hoffenheim.
Gladbach v Werder Bremen
Mainz v Heidenheim,
Bochum v Union Berlin,
Augsburg v Borussia Dortmund,
Darmstadt v Wolfsburg,
RB Leipzig v Hoffenheim
Freiburg v Koln,
Bayer Leverkusen v Frankfurt,
Bayern Munich v Stuttgart