Bayer Leverkusen v FC Köln preview
By Ben Sully @SullyBen
Bundesliga fans will be treated to a Rhine Derby on Sunday afternoon, with Bayer Leverkusen looking to cement their place in the top four against FC Köln, who have European aspirations of their own.
Competing with Freiburg, Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig for Champions League qualification, Bayer Leverkusen will be aiming to extend their unbeaten home run to ten games in all competitions on Sunday. Impressively, Die Werkself have scored 31 goals in that nine-match unbeaten home run.
They have really hit their straps at the BayArena in recent weeks, winning their last three home matches by an aggregate 12-3 scoreline. Saturday's hosts will be buoyed by the 1-1 draw they picked up away to Bayern Munich in their last league outing, although they would have been disappointed by the 3-2 defeat they suffered in the Europa League against Atalanta on Thursday.
An exciting game in Bergamo may have taken its toll on the Leverkusen players, which could have a bearing on Sunday's encounter. Gerardo Seoane's side will also have one eye on the second leg, which takes place at the BayArena on Thursday.
The hosts are still without the services of top scorer Patrik Schick, who is sidelined with a calf injury. Karim Bellarabi is also expected to miss out due to a hamstring problem, while Kerem Demirbay will return to the side after missing the Atalanta encounter through suspension.
Köln's bid to qualify for Europe has stuttered in recent weeks, with Köln picking up just a point from their last two games. After playing out an underwhelming 1-1 draw against rock bottom Greuther Fürth, Steffen Baumgart's side played host to Hoffenheim last weekend. It was a contest that left Köln empty-handed, with a Stefan Posch goal condemning the Billy Goats to a 1-0 defeat.
Although they are winless in their last three away matches, Köln have lost just one of their previous seven games on their travels, suggesting they will offer Leverkusen a real test on Sunday. The visitors can take confidence from the fact that they have scored in ten of their 12 away league games this term, but that attacking flair has compromised defensive solidity, with Köln one of three Bundesliga sides that are yet to keep an away clean sheet in the league this season.
Mark Uth will miss the game for the visitors due to illness, which could result in Ondrej Duda coming into the starting lineup.