Few Bundesliga clubs could confidently utter the German saying ‘wir kochen auch nur mit Wasser’ when they think of title favorites Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Could Bayer Leverkusen be an exception?
The phrase translates as ‘they only cook with water too', or - more loosely - "they can't do magic either" and aims to demonstrate the lack of fundamental difference between two parties.
In football, where wealthier teams brew up winning campaigns in luxury bottled mineral water and poorer ones must sustain their season from the tap, Leverkusen could hold more than a supporting role in this season's Bundesliga drama.
The promising signs were certainly not evident in the way Sami Hyypia's team were outplayed by Manchester United in their Champions League group match on Tuesday. But they returned to form on Saturday against Mainz, romping home 4-1.
Admittedly, the win came against far inferior opponents than Manchester's Red Devils. But, more than anything, it demonstrated the depth Hyypia - already appearing a wiser head coach than his adolescent touchline experience belies - has in his squad.
Out of the XI that started against United went Son Heung-Min, Emir Spahic, Emre Can and Giulio Donati. In for the trip to Mainz came Roberto Hilbert, Robbie Kruse, Lars Bender and Philipp Wollscheid. While Hilbert showed he could be a serious threat to Donati's claim to right-back, the real success story was Kruse.
A 2.5 million-euro ($3.4 m) signing from Fortuna Düsseldorf, Kruse justified his first-ever start for Leverkusen by clinching a brace shortly before half-time. The Australia international forward will likely find himself back on the bench soon enough, as Son and fringe Germany international Sidney Sam are the preferred wide options for Hyypia.
But Kruse is the perfect example of the depth at the Finn's disposal.
Options aplenty for Hyypia
Consider the accomplished midfield quartet of Gonzalo Castro, Lars Bender, Stefan Reinartz and Simon Rolfes, with support from the highly rated Emre Can. In central defense, Spachic, Wollscheid and Omer Toprak have a healthy rivalry for two positions.
Only up front do they look somewhat thin. Eren Derdiyok rejoined the club as the sands ran out on the last transfer window in August, but the Switzerland international would struggle to be an adequate long-term replacement should Sebastian Kiessling go down with injury.
Kiessling has scored 46 goals in his last 74 league games, and averages a goal every 2.6 games in all competitions since joining Leverkusen in 2006.
Leverkusenwithout Kiessling, with his cherubic crown of blonde hair, would be like Christmas without a tree.
Fine balance to ambitions
That aside, the depth Hyypia does have in his other positions will prove vital as Leverkusen attempt to complement their league campaign with what they will hope be long runs in both the German Cup and the Champions League.
Manufacturing a tilt at the Bundesliga title - a trophy yet to find its way to the Bayer Arena's cabinets - will take concentration, form and plenty of luck. The way they systematically dissected Mainz on Saturday indicate they may have the first two elements.
Leverkusen's ambitions might also be helped by the poor form of certain teams that they would otherwise have to fight off for Champions League spots, such as Schalke and Hamburg.
There is history on Leverkusen's side. In Spain, it has been 10 years this season since a club other than Real Madrid and Barcelona won the La Liga title. In the same time, the Bundesliga has had five different champions.
The might of Bayern and Dortmund make it hard to see any other club going the distance as the season unwinds. But if the likes of Werder Bremen (2003-04) and Wolfsburg (2008-09) can win the Bundesliga title, then Leverkusen should perhaps believe they can cook one up too.