‘Set aside respect and fear from the start’

The winter break ended ten days ago for the Werkself and tomorrow night sees the return of the Bundesliga campaign. 23 days after the last competitive fixture and progress to the last eight of the DFB Cup with the victory against Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bayer 04 kick off the second half of the season in Germany’s top flight at 20.30 CET in front of a sell-out crowd at the BayArena.

“We’re happy to get going again – even though the break was very short,” said head coach Heiko Herrlich at the pre-match press conference on Thursday afternoon. The Bayer 04 players and coaching staff only had 12 days to recharge their batteries: The Werkself returned to training on 2 January to prepare for the forthcoming clash with the league leaders who have a 13-point lead over the Werkself in fourth place. Given the positions in the table, the Bayern Munich coach Jupp Heynckes is expecting “a top-class opening match. Two teams capable of playing very good football face each other.” Heynckes, who like his assistant Peter Hermann, was also at Bayer 04, praised the approach of the Werkself: “Leverkusen have assembled a very good side and the team has been impressive. They have a good mix of young, talented and experienced players – they complement each other very well and that’s why they’re unbeaten in twelve games.”


Heiko Herrlich is well aware of the focus on Leverkusen tomorrow night: “The match will be broadcast worldwide. Everyone will be watching us, full of hope for us and wanting the Bundesliga to be more exciting.” The 46-year-old also knows the magnitude of the challenge facing his team: “Bayern Munich are the best side in the league. If they produce their best form it will be incredibly difficult. We need to be 100 per cent on top of our game, hope for or force mistakes and then we’ll be in with a small chance.”

 And the Black and The Reds want to take that chance. The Werkself boss is hoping his players can carry on where they left off before the winter break and learn from the last meeting of the two teams five months ago. “In the reverse fixture we showed far too much respect and we dozed off for much of the first half. We only really put in the effort in the second half when we were 3-0 down. This time we want to set aside respect and fear,” said Herrlich. “I don’t want to tempt fate but we always set out to win our games at home.” 


Heiko Herrlich is in the happy position of having virtually a full squad to choose from. Only Vladlen Yurchenko is unavailable due to a foot injury. “It feels good to be in this position,” said Herrlich. And Lars Bender, who was struggling with cold symptoms in the past few days, now appears to be back on track according to Herrlich: “He was able to train and I’m not worried about him being unavailable tomorrow.”

Following the final pre-match training session on Thursday afternoon, the Bayer 04 coaching staff will again be spoilt for choice in picking the side to take on Bayern Munich. "We have a lot of players trying to get in the starting eleven. There will be some tough decisions to make tomorrow," said Herrlich.


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