MARK O'HAIRE'S (@MarkOHaire) European NAP heads to the Bundesliga on Sunday.
Bayer Leverkusen v Mainz | Sunday 28th January 2018, 14:30 | BT Sport
Scour the top-flight standings in England, France, Spain and Italy, but you will not find a European rat race anywhere near as competitive or compelling as in the Bundesliga. A single point is all that separates second-placed Bayer Leverkusen and sixth-in-the-table Borussia Dortmund at present.
Even Hertha Berlin – five points adrift of the top six in 11th – cannot be ruled out of the continental running with 15 rounds of fixtures still to play. With pacesetters Bayern Munich's sizeable 16-point advantage over the chasing pack, there’s over half of the division in the chase for a Champions League spot.
Leverkusen began last weekend in fifth, three points behind last season's runners-up RB Leipzig (second) and only one clear of their seventh-placed hosts Hoffenheim. By the close of play, thanks in no small part to a Leon Bailey-inspired 4-1 rout, Die Werkself had assumed the role of Bayern's nearest pursuers – on goal difference.
Highly-rated Bailey produced an impudent finish in the 43rd minute to put the visitors in front. Julian Baumgartlinger doubled the lead six minutes – becoming the 14th Bayer player to score this season (no other team can boast as many different goalscorers) – and Lucas Alario bagged a brace.
Heiko Herrlich’s charges have now scored in their last 24 Bundesliga games, a sequence no other side can currently boast of and a club record for Die Werkself. And Leverkusen have lost one game in their last 14 league fixtures, against Bayern Munich.
Goals flowing for Leverkusen
With a W4-D4-L0 record when excluding the German giants at the BayArena, the hosts will fully expect to extend their excellent recent run of form when Mainz pitch up on Sunday. Only Bayern have scored more Bundesliga goals than Leverkusen (39) and another thriller could be on the cards here.
Despite their claims as Germany’s second-best side, the Rhineland club have struggled to shutout opposition sides. Herrlich’s men have kept only three clean sheets in 13; combined with their ability to cut loose, it’s therefore little surprise that six of their last 12 league games have featured at least four goals.
I fully expect Die Werkself to see off lowly Mainz– they’ve scored three goals or more in six of their past 13 meetings with bottom-half clubs here whilst five of their eight Bundesliga victories under Herrlich have arrived by two goals or more – so adding Over 2.5 Goals to the equation certainly appeals.
Schwarz saves his Mainz job
Hoping to halt a run of six Bundesliga games without a win, Mainz managed to squeeze out a 3-2 success over rotten travellers Stuttgart last time out. Yoshinori Muto notched twice as Die Nullfunfer picked up their fifth home win of the season and probably saved coach Sandro Schwarz's job.
However, the visitors remain in 15th and are yet to taste victory on their travels this term (W0-D4-L5). Mainz have only managed a solitary success in 23 games as guests in the Bundesliga and have lost 16/23 (62%) on the road since the start of last season.
Schwarz's adventurous style has led to many goal-laden games – Mainz have seen five of their past six contests break the Over 3.5 Goals barrier – but the away side have been shipping goals at an alarming rate with Die Nullfunfer have leaked at least twice in each of their past seven outings.
Although xG data suggests they’re overperforming in an attacking sense, the visitors are the highest scorers in the bottom-seven and should be able to play their part in an enjoyable, yet ultimately fruitless, trip to Leverkusen on Sunday.
Bayer Leverkusen v Mainz – Bayer Leverkusen to win and Over 2.5 Goals (10/11 Ladbrokes)