Bayer Leverkusen host Hamburg on Saturday afternoon in Matchday 17's biggest clash. If Leverkusen manage to take all three points, they can cut Bayern Munich's lead atop the Bundesliga table to single digits. The Bavarians currently lead by 12 points. Last weekend, Leverkusen lost to Hannover ending a four match winning streak, and Hamburg extended their unbeaten run to three matches. The two sides are separated by only 6 points in the table and six places in the table.
Hamburg have conceded the third fewest goals in the league after conceding the fifth most goals last season. Frank Arnesen and Thorsten Fink moved to bring in Rene Adler from Leverkusen on a free transfer. In addition to the addition of Adler, using a consistent backline in matches has helped solidify this defense. Michael Mancienne and Heiko Westermann in particular have been standouts in the central of defense.
That defense will be tested by Leverkusen's constant threat Stefan Kießling. The sometime German international has scored the most goals in Germany during the calendar year of 2012 with 26. Hamburg's defense does concede a lot of shots, so Kießling will focusing to be in position to capitalize on any loose balls in the penalty area.
If Sami Hyypiä's side come away from the BayArena with all three points, it will be a huge momentum burst into the second half of the season. Bayern Munich will be within reach distance, and Leverkusen will be the only side with legitimate hopes of catching them. For Hamburg, a win will see them move up into European places and, if certain results go their way, a Champions League place.
Bayer Leverkusen injuries and suspensions
Out: Sidney Sam (back), Ömer Toprak (back), Daniel Carvajal (suspended), Stefan Reinartz (suspended), Michal Kadlec (knee), Karim Bellarabi (groin).
Leverkusen will be missing three likely starters with Sam, Carvajal, and Reinartz out with injuries. The fact that this team is in second place and have yet to fully hit their stride is impressive.
Hamburg injuries and suspensions
Out: Per Skjelbred (leg), Rafael Van der Vaart (leg), Petr Jiracek (groin), Marcell Jansen (shoulder).
Van der Vaart remains out with the leg injury he suffered last month. Good news for Hamburg supporters, however, as Maximilian Beister is returning this weekend after suffering a thigh injury two weeks ago. Jansen remains out with his dislocated shoulder, while Skjelbred and Jiracek are also missing with injuries.
Match Date/Time: 15:30 CET, 9:30 a.m. ET
Venue: BayArena, Leverkusen, Germany
TV: Gol TV (U.S. & Canada)