In one of Saturday’s early fixtures, Freiburg travel the 450 or so kilometres North for a visit to the BayArena to take on Bayer Leverkusen. Die Breisgauer will be looking to build on their mini 2-match unbeaten run and further extricate themselves from the foot of the Bundesliga table. Leverkusen, on the other hand, will attempt to shake off a pair of unfortunate league results in order to keep pace with the other clubs in the thick of the race for the European qualification spots.
After a quick perusal of a sampling of the online betting community, Freiburg is the definite underdog in this match, perhaps bolstered partially by Leverkusen’s very impressive showing midweek in the Champions League vs. Atletico Madrid and partially due to the recent record between the clubs. Since the 2009-10 season, when Freiburg made their return to the top flight, the head-to-head matchups between the two clubs have been dominated by Leverkusen with Die Werkself holding a 6-3-2 advantage.
Starting Lineup and Tactics
After facing a mini injury crisis ahead of last week’s match vs. Hoffenheim, Christian Streich did receive some good news ahead of the Leverkusen encounter. Striker Admir Mehmedi will be available for selection on Saturday after fully recovering from an ankle ligament injury that has kept him out for two weeks. While Mehmedi may not necessarily start the match, he should expect to see some minutes on Saturday, as he did last weekend coming on as a late second half substitute. Both Roman Bürki and Oliver Sorg trained with the team this week after overcoming minor colds.
So the injury list is gradually shrinking. With Mehmedi’s return, this now means that only Stefan Mitrovic, Marc-Oliver Kempf, Mats Møller-Dæhli, Mike Frantz, and Christopher Jullien remain sidelined out injured. Streich is without defender Marc Torrejón after the Spaniard was shown a straight red for a foul in the dying embers of the Hoffenheim match. This suspension may turn out to be Streich’s biggest headache as his options in the centre of defence are essentially playing Pavel Krmaš or someone else out of position.
With all that said, expect to see a similar lineup as the one that was trotted out last week.
Projected lineup (4-4-2, the “double 6”):
Bürki – Sorg, Höhn, Krmaš, Günter – Klaus, Darida, Schuster, Schmid – Guédé, Philipp
In terms of tactics, Freiburg are going to need to play a strong defensive game and keep extremely focused because Leverkusen attack often and with lightning speed. In December, Michael Caley wrote this fascinating piece on Leverkusen’s extreme brand of gegenpressing which leads to a huge number of chances created within 7 seconds of recovering the ball. And it isn’t that these chances are caused by hoofing longballs up the field, far from it. These chances are created by an ultra-high press designed to win the ball upfield. In conjunction with the extreme press are the darting runs and attacking interplay, especially from the midfield trio of Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Son Heung-Min, and Karim Bellerabi. While Leverkusen may not be the team they were during the Hinrunde, they are still a very lethal attacking side.
To combat B04’s attacking potency, Freiburg will have to maintain defensive composure in the face of constant pressure. This factor could mean ceding possession to Leverkusen and look to hit back on the counter, or keeping their shape and attempt to build patiently from the back. Seeing as how Leverkusen played as recently as Wednesday Streich may tell his players to keep the ball as much as possible and force the opposition into pursuit of possession.
Freiburg would also do well to take advantage of Leverkusen’s aggressive nature and try to win as many free kicks in the attacking third as possible. After some recent struggles, Jonathan Schmid’s delivery from set pieces has been improved of late and could provide the opportunity to create chances. The last three goals scored have all come off some form of set piece and that trend could very well continue.
Starting to sound like a broken record, but Freiburg really need something from this match. While a victory may be a long shot a draw is definitely a more realistic possibility. Freiburg will need to minimise mistakes and try to capitalise on the fact that their opposition may be fatigued after a tough midweek match. Unfortunately for Die Breisgauer I think playing Leverkusen at home may be too much of a task. Leverkusen will look to get ahead early in order to set the tone for the remainder of the match. 3-1 Leverkusen.
Recently, the striker Karim Guédé has come under fire from a segment of Freiburg supporters for his lack of production. As the team took to the field for the pre-game warm-up, a section of fans in the North Stand took it upon themselves to mock and ridicule Guédé, who has not scored a goal for Freiburg in 21 matches, as he took shots at the goal. It was only after the intervention of captain Julian Schuster that the jeering ceased.
Now it is one thing to be taunted (within reason of course) by the opposition supporters, indeed it is part of game as we know it, but to be openly mocked by sections of your own fans is something that crosses the line. This incident starkly contrasts with how fans in Stuttgart embraced and comforted the young defender Timo Baumgartl after his blunder last week against Borussia Dortmund. Supporters groups and club officials alike have condemned the actions of the few bad apples reiterating that SC Freiburg and society as a whole need to stand up against bullying in all its forms. Guédé himself did not comment on the incident.
Hopefully, the man known as Big Karim can filter out all the criticism and harness all the positivity from his teammates, club officials, and especially the supporters to regain his confidence. Of course scoring goals isn’t the only job of a striker; indeed, Guédé has been useful tactically as he can act as a target man and holds up the ball to allow his teammates to get forward in an attacking move. Perhaps this weekend is the time he breaks the slump and helps his club to an underdog victory against Bayer Leverkusen. It’d make for a nice ending that’s for sure.
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