Bundesliga preview: Bayern to test Leverkusen mettle
Bayer Leverkusen's Bundesliga resurgence will be tested when they tackle Bayern Munich on Saturday, while Borussia Dortmund host Mainz.
Leverkusen exceeded all expectations to finish second last season, securing qualification for the UEFA Champions League.
They have thus far failed to replicate that success this term, and sit fifth on the table, seven points outside the qualification places for Europe's elite club competition.
Part of Leverkusen's struggles can be attributed to the loss of coach Jupp Heynckes, who was lured away to Bayern, and will be on the away team's bench when he returns to the BayArena this weekend.
Under his replacement Robin Dutt, Leverkusen have managed two successive victories in their last two outings, beating Augsburg 2-1 at home and winning 2-0 away to Cologne.
Striker Stefan Keissling claims those positive results were nothing special, and the real examination of their credentials will arrive with the visit of Bayern.
"The wins against Augsburg and Cologne were pretty much obligatory given the standards expected of Bayer Leverkusen," Kiessling said.
"Now we're facing the make-or-break games and we aim to come out of them on a positive note. We all have to pull together to keep this mini-run going."
Bayern are second in the standings, four points behind leaders Dortmund.
They suffered a shock 1-0 loss away to Basel in the Champions League round-of-16 last week, and also failed to beat struggling Freiburg on February 18, before dispatching Schalke 2-0 last time out.
"I don't think the fact that they (Bayern) maybe haven't being playing so well lately will be important," Keissling said.
"They're always dangerous, and they will be on Saturday. We need to be on our game, and if we are, there could be something in it for us."
If Leverkusen can prevent Bayern from collecting all three points, Dortmund will have an opportunity to extend their advantage further when they host mid-table Mainz, unbeaten in five, at the Westfalenstadion.
In other matches on Saturday, bottom side Freiburg face a difficult assignment at home to fourth-placed Schalke.
Augsburg, precariously placed one point outside the relegation zone, could well struggle away to seventh-placed Hannover.
Hertha Berlin, who are third from bottom, will look for their first win under new coach Otto Rehhagel away to sixth-placed Werder Bremen.
Also, second-to-last Kaiserslautern play host to Wolfsburg, while Hamburg await the visit Stuttgart.
On Sunday, third-placed Borussia Moenchengladbach go to Nuremburg, who are 10th on the table following victories in their past two outings.
Later in the day, Hoffenheim are at home to Cologne in the final match of the round.