Leverkusen primed to close on absent Bayern Munich

Reuters , Thursday 19 Dec 2013

Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich's players line up for a team photograph before their FIFA Club World Cup soccer match against Guangzhou Evergrande at Agadir Stadium in Agadir December 17, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

As Bayern Munich take a break from domestic action to pursue more silverware overseas, Bayer Leverkusen will be hoping to close within four points of the all-conquering Bavarians with a win over Werder Bremen ahead of the German winter break.

Bayern will be aiming to claim a fifth trophy of 2013 when they face surprise package Raja Casablanca in the Club World Cup final in Morocco on Saturday and with their 17th league game put back to January, Leverkusen have a chance to cut their lead.

As third-placed Dortmund struggle for consistency, Leverkusen have emerged as Bayern's main challengers for the Bundesliga title despite suffering a 1-0 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt last week that halted a four-game winning streak.

After clinching a Champions League knockout stage berth last week, they bolstered their squad with the loan signing of 20-year-old South Korean forward Ryu Seung-woo on Wednesday from FC Jeju for the second half of the season.

For coach Sami Hyypia's team, the Bremen game on Saturday represents a last chance to turn on their attacking style before the winter break against a team with the joint worst defensive record in the league after conceding 37 goals in 16 matches.

"Every time our opponent gets into the penalty area, it becomes extremely dangerous for us," Werder sports director Thomas Eichin said of the 14th-placed side's fragile defence.

Werder have conceded 14 goals in the last three games in the absence of injured central defender Sebastian Proedl and their 16 point-haul after as many matches represents their lowest Bundesliga tally in 39 years.

Tensions have also risen off the pitch with captain Clemens Fritz involved in a scuffle with a team mate during training this week.

Werder coach Robin Dutt is well aware that another defeat following the 7-0 drubbing at Bayern and a 3-2 loss at Hertha Berlin in the past two weeks could cost him his job.

"We are having a bad run, there's no question about it," Dutt told reporters. "But it does not do us any good to talk about the standings. I can read the table and there are not many teams behind us."

Dutt's cause has not been helped by the possibility of having to deal with the absence of midfielder Aaron Hunt, who suffered a muscle injury during training.

"It will be very tight for Saturday," Hunt told reporters. "It is not yet clear how the injury will develop until then. I will see if I can train freely on Friday."

Werder, a Bundesliga powerhouse just a few years ago, are desperate for points having won one of their last ten games, to drop to within five points of the relegation playoff spot.

Dortmund will also be hungry for points when they host promoted Hertha after seeing their campaign stutter recently with just one win in the last four matches.

In-form Hertha will not be easy opponents, however, surprising many in their first season back in the top flight by cementing a good run with consecutive wins to climb up to seventh in the standings.

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