Crisis-hit Leverkusen, Wolfsburg desperate for success
By Karolos Grohmann
BERLIN (Reuters) - Bayer Leverkusen and VfL Wolfsburg have mostly been concerned with the top end of the Bundesliga in recent years but Saturday's clash looms as a desperate battle for both clubs to avoid falling deeper into trouble at the bottom.
Leverkusen, competing in the Champions League, had imagined their start to season differently but losses in their last two league games have seen them slip to 11th in the league, just four points off the relegation spots.
An embarrassing German Cup second round exit to third tier club Sportfreunde Lotte in midweek compounded their woes with sports director Rudi Voeller admitting mistakes were piling up.
To make matters worse coach Roger Schmidt will not be on the bench on Saturday as he sits out a two-match suspension for a verbal attack on his Hoffenheim counterpart in last week's 3-0 defeat.
Schmidt, a repeat offender, has also been slapped with a fine and his team must now drag themselves out of the crisis on their own.
Listed among possible title favourites ahead of the season, Leverkusen are living up to the nickname Neverkusen -- a humorous take on their perennial failure to deliver on expectations.
But Voeller is not prepared to fan the flames of discontent just yet.
"We are fully behind the coach because we value his qualities," said the 1990 World Cup winner. "We do have a coach who has no doubt made some mistakes. But the coaching issue is not the key here. We finished third last season and were fourth the season before. We have experienced great games."
Yet time is running out for Schmidt, who could benefit from Wolfsburg's own deepening crisis.
The Wolves, runners-up only two season ago, are stuck on the relegation playoff spot after a disastrous start and have already parted company with coach Dieter Hecking.
Interim replacement Valerien Ismael failed to turn things around in his first game in charge last week with Wolfsburg going 3-1 down at Darmstadt 98.
There was some good news, though, with new striker Mario Gomez scoring his maiden goal for the club in that game and following that up with another in their 1-0 German Cup victory over second tier Heidesheim on Wednesday.
"This win gives us the necessary confidence for the tough task against Leverkusen," Ismael said.
Another desperate for a win is Borussia Dortmund, who have yet to win in the Bundesliga this month and dropped to sixth, six points behind leaders Bayern Munich.
Dortmund hope they can turn things around in their Ruhr valley derby against bitter rivals Schalke 04, who are 14th on seven points.
Undefeated Bayern face Augsburg again after eliminating them from the German Cup on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann,; editing by Nick Mulvenney)