19:30 (BST); Friday 29th September; Veltins Arena (Gelsenkirchen, Germany) BT Sport 3
Two of the Bundesliga’s fallen giants battle under the lights in Gelsenkirchen with Schalke taking on Bayer Leverkusen.
The visitors may have started the season slowly, but over the past two weeks they are gaining in confidence and their last performance showed a side that is finally figuring itself out.
In contrast, Schalke flew out of the gates at the season’s start, but have stalled somewhat with two defeats in their last two games.
A win is pivotal for both sides who will look to build momentum as they head into the international break.
Last Time Out
Hoffenheim 2-0 Schalke
After defeat in midweek at the hands of Bayern Munich, Schalke looked to return to winning ways as they faced off against Hoffenheim.
It was a less than ideal start for Schalke who conceded after 13 minutes when Dennis Geiger’s rangy effort beat the sprawling Ralf Fährmann into the bottom left corner. The goal didn’t dampen Schalke’s spirits, however, and they fought on and controlled the contest.
Schalke had plenty of chances in the second half and should’ve found the back of the net. As is so often the case Hoffenheim punished the missed opportunities when Lukas Rupp caught Fährmann in no-man’s-land before dribbling the ball in.
The Royal Blues were worthy of a point, but failure to convert cost them dearly.
Bayer Leverkusen 3-0 Hamburg
After defeat at Hertha Berlin, Bayer Leverkusen looked for their second consecutive home victory as they welcomed Hamburg to the BayArena.
New signing Lucas Alario was available to play and made his first Bundesliga start. It was a great opening by Leverkusen, who broke the deadlock after 20 minutes when Kevin Volland volleyed home Leon Bailey’s knock on.
New boy Alario got himself on the scoresheet three minutes later when Bailey teed up the Argentinian for his first Bundesliga goal.
Leverkusen were always comfortable and made it three in the second half when Alario set-up Volland for his second of the game and a deserved three points.
Domenico Tedesco will have players on the mend with Nabil Bentaleb in line for a recall after recovering from injury, whilst Bastian Oczipka has an infection and is 50-50 at this stage; if healthy the left back starts.
Leon Goretzka and Guido Burgstaller had lighter duties, but will start against Leverkusen.
Bayer Leverkusen Lineup
Leon Bailey was sensational last time out and should remain in the starting line-up whilst Kevin Volland and Lucas Alario remain the attacking options.
Admir Mehmedi is likely to be the unlucky player to miss out with Karim Bellarabi returning. No place for Julian Brandt as he remains on the bench.
Key Battle: Guido Burgstaller vs Lucas Alario
The Austrian international has yet to find his feet this season as he enters Week 7 with only one goal to his credit so far.
Burgstaller came to Gelsenkirchen from 1. FC Nürnberg midway through last season and made an immediate impact, scoring nine times in his first 18 league appearances with Schalke.
Yes, Schalke are playing a new system which has seen Burgstaller take less shots than central midfielders Leon Goretzka and Nabil Bentaleb, but heading into the international break, can Burgstaller leave with a bang?
Lucas Alario garnered plenty of attention after a stellar career with River Plate, where the Argentine scored 31 goals in 71 appearances.
Many consider Alario as a similar player to Robert Lewandowski and in his first appearance for Leverkusen, the Argentine couldn’t have done much more with a goal and an assist to his credit.
Alario can be a real weapon for Leverkusen this season, but can he replicate his Week 6 performance in Gelsenkirchen?
Beginning to gel
It may have been a slow start to Heiko Herrlich’s first season in charge of Bayer Leverkusen, but now they are getting it together.
Last time out we saw the emergence of Leon Bailey with two assists, showcasing what Roger Schmidt saw in the Jamaican, whilst Kevin Volland is slowly demonstrating why Leverkusen shelled out the millions for the striker.
In attack they look dangerous, but it will be interesting to see what they can do against the back three of Schalke.
Getting back on track
Although Schalke shot out of the gates, the brakes have been applied recently thanks to defeats to Bayern Munich and Hoffenheim.
The biggest issue for Schalke was their inability to convert their chances and, especially in the game against Hoffenheim, Domenico Tedesco’s side should’ve secured a point.
With Bayer Leverkusen coming to town, can Schalke get back on track and find the back of the net or will they go three games without a win?
PREDICTION: Schalke 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen
This will be an interesting contest with both sides looking to enter the international break on the back of a victory.
The key for Schalke will be to convert their chances and put plenty of pressure on the Leverkusen defence, whilst the visitors will look to play their way down the channels and use the wide players to create opportunities.
I expect a free flowing contest with both sides looking to take the three points, but I don’t believe we will have a victor.
Can Schalke break their two-game losing streak or will Leverkusen secure their first three points on the road? Let us know in the comments section below.
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