Former Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso is hoping to pick up only his second win as Bayer Leverkusen coach when his side face Union Berlin on Sunday
Berlin (AFP) - Bayer Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso is in desperate need of a win as his side look to turn around their miserable form when they host Bundesliga leaders Union Berlin on Sunday.
Having finished third last season, Leverkusen are now third from bottom with just two wins in 12 games after a catastrophic start to the campaign.
Spanish 2010 World Cup winner Alonso was brought in to stop the rot in October, but has won only one of his seven games in charge so far.
“We have time to improve, and we will be better when we come back next year,” said Alonso after his side limped into the Europa League knockout phase with a 0-0 draw against Club Brugge in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Yet he admitted that his team desperately need points as they prepare to face Union, Cologne and Stuttgart in their final three league games before the World Cup break.
“We need points and better performances. The next week will be very intense,” he said.
Leverkusen’s woes have invited fierce criticism from the German media, with Bild newspaper claiming their current form puts them “closer to the third division than the European spots”.
They are 17 points behind surprise table-toppers Union, whom they host on Sunday.
The capital club’s fairytale run at the top of the table is now in its eighth week, and they will be hoping to defend their one-point lead over Bayern Munich with another win in Leverkusen.
Union’s story has drawn comparisons with 2016 Premier League winners Leicester City, but former Leicester striker Andrej Kramaric said this week that he doesn’t think the Berlin club can go the distance.
“I think Leicester was a one-off, something which will never happen again,” said the Croatian international, now at Hoffenheim.
“Union have had a great start, but if we are honest, I think Bayern are going to take the title again.”
Union will be hoping for some help from their cross-town rivals, who host Bayern in Berlin on Saturday.
Hertha’s record is far from encouraging, however, having won just one of 22 games against Bayern since 2009.
One to watch: Rani Khedira (Union Berlin)
Rani Khedira has been in brilliant form for Bundesliga table-toppers Union Berlin this season
The younger brother of 2014 World Cup winner Sami Khedira is in the form of his life for league leaders Union Berlin, and is now eyeing a place on the plane to Qatar.
Khedira confirmed last week that he is one of several surprise names on Germany coach Hansi Flick’s provisional squad list for the World Cup, and the midfielder has even been linked with a potential winter move to Barcelona.
Having joined from Augsburg at the beginning of last season, the 28-year-old has now established himself as the beating heart of Union’s midfield and assumed the role of vice-captain at the high-flying capital club.
He has started in every Bundesliga game this season, and played every single minute of Union’s first five Europa League fixtures.
39 - Yellow cards Augsburg have picked up this season, breaking a Bundesliga record for the first 12 games of a campaign.
14 - Games Hertha Berlin captain Marvin Plattenhardt has played against Bayern Munich without ever being on the winning side.
4 - In-form Werder Bremen striker Niclas Fuellkrug has scored in all of his last four games against Schalke.
Fixtures (all times 1430 GMT unless stated)
Borussia Moenchengladbach v Stuttgart (1930)
Borussia Dortmund v Bochum, Mainz v Wolfsburg, Hoffenheim v RB Leipzig, Augsburg v Eintracht Frankfurt, Hertha Berlin v Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen v Schalke (1730)
Union Berlin v Bayer Leverkusen, Freiburg v Cologne (1630)