Bayer 04 Leverkusen coach Klaus Toppmöller faces an emotional afternoon on Saturday as the 1. Bundesliga leaders travel to his old club 1. FC Kaiserslautern.
Toppmöller confronts his past
With Leverkusen eager to hold on to top spot ahead of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final first-leg against Liverpool FC at Anfield on Wednesday, the 50-year-old coach will come up against the ghosts of his playing career at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion. While he is rapidly gaining a giant reputation as a coach, his reputation as a player in Kaiserslautern is unsurpassed. Toppmöller is the club's all-time top scorer with 108 goals in 204 games and was chosen as a member of the club's all-time best side last year.
'My heart will always be with this club'
"Whenever I go back to this stadium, I get goosebumps," admitted Toppmöller. "It is fantastic that the fans haven't forgotten me. My heart will always be with this club. It will always be a dream of mine to be able to coach Kaiserslautern but first I want to take Leverkusen to the title and the past has no influence on this match. The best outcome of the Bundesliga this year would be if we win the title and Kaiserslautern come in second."
Mixed news for Leverkusen
Sentiment will have little to do with Saturday's game, however. With BV Borussia Dortmund breathing down Leverkusen's necks at the top of the table, sixth-placed Kaiserslautern will provide an enormous challenge for Toppmöller's side. Zé Roberto und Yidiray Bastürk are both suspended for Leverkusen with Argentinian Diego Placente expected to take over Zé Roberto's place in midfield. However, the good news for Toppmöller is that another Kaiserslautern old boy - Leverkusen midfield player Michael Ballack - is back from suspension and itching for action at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion.
The burden of history
That being said, Kaiserslautern might not be so eager to see their old players at the moment. Regardless of their injury problems, the club have lost their last four home matches against Leverkusen and have had a disappointing record against the other top sides in Germany this season. They lost 5-1 against Hertha BSC Berlin, 4-1 against FC Bayern München, 4-0 against BV Borussia Dortmund and 2-1 against Leverkusen in the corresponding game at the BayArena.
Klose out for Kaiserslautern
Kaiserslautern's Miroslav Klose is doubtful for the match for the match but Brazilian midfield player Lincoln, coming back from long-term injury, could provide an obvious replacement for Klose but another option might be former Swedish international Jörgen Pettersson even though he has only scored two goals in his last 12 matches.
Slender Champions League hopes
In their defence, Kaiserslautern have taken a 1-0 lead in the last five encounters between the two clubs. With an outside chance of grabbing one of the 1. Bundesliga's three Champions League slots for 2002/3, they will be keen to hold on to any lead they take on Saturday.
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