Bayer 04 Leverkusen stride into the path of a seemingly unstoppable Bundesliga juggernaut when they meet FC Bayern München on Saturday.
Seven games into the new season, few in Germany can see any other outcome than another title for Bayern. Two draws and five wins from their opening matches have seen Ottmar Hitzfeld's side storm to the top of the table, but Michael Skibbe's Leverkusen will look to stop them in their tracks as the Bavarian club head for the BayArena on Saturday in the weekend's big league game.
A 2-1 midweek win at 1. FC Nürnberg took Leverkusen up to second place in the league, and now they are being billed as Bayern's nemesis, much to their coach's annoyance. "This Bayern hunt is not my business," said Skibbe. "We want to finish as far up the table as possible and are not hunting anyone else, especially not a team which is so extremely well put together."
Leverkusen have been scrapping industriously for points all season, and are unbeaten in five successive games despite the recent absence of Germany midfielder Bernd Schneider. That the 33-year-old, one of the veterans of Leverkusen's trip to the UEFA Champions League final in 2002, is not being missed says much about the form of striker Stefan Kiessling.
The 23-year-old has been in fine touch this season, with the club getting full value for his two goals in seven games thanks to a defence that has been as mean as Bayern's, conceding three goals in seven league games. "We have grown together as a team and we understand each other very well," said the former Nürnberg star. "We don't get many goals but we are all supporting each other."
Kiessling also scored twice in Leverkusen's 3-1 UEFA Cup home win against UD Leiria, a result that overshadowed Bayern's rather underwhelming 1-0 win against another Portuguese side – CF Os Belenenses – in the same competition. Skibbe has certainly been pleased with the young forward, saying: "Stefan has been a very active player recently."
Now in his second season at the BayArena, Kiessling is coming good and getting great support from Greek striker Theofanis Gekas, who has scored three times since joining from VfL Bochum 1848 in the summer. Whether the twosome can outshine Bayern's celebrated pairing of Miroslav Klose and Luca Toni on Saturday remains the big question for Leverkusen.
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