Both Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg started the second half of the season with a whimper. But while the Wolves are sitting pretty, new Leverkusen coach Peter Bosz knows his side need to start taking their chances.
After surviving two successive relegation playoffs, and with the Volkswagen emissions scandal still hanging over the club, Wolfsburg boss Bruno Labaddia may well have expected only to enhance his reputation as a firefighting coach in 2018-19.
But two wins to start the season, including one over Saturday's opponents Bayer Leverkusen, and 19 points from the final 21 before the winter break has propelled the Wolves in to the European picture.
That should be the bare minimum for a a team of Leverkusen's talent. But the Werkself's failure to climb out of the bottom half for any signficant period of time cost Heiko Herrlich his job and got former Borussia Dortmund coach Peter Bosz back in a Bundesliga hot seat.
Despite the contrasting fortunes of the two this term, both started the Rückrunde (second half of the season) with defeats - Wolfsburg falling 2-1 to Schalke and Leverkusen losing 1-0 at home to Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Leverkusen must make up ground
"We can all see the table and I'd be lying if I said the situation is easy," said Leverkusen's Sven Bender, acknowledging that closing the four point gap to Wolfsburg in sixth was critical. "But we also know we can move up the table quickly,"
Though they've lost more league games than they've won, Leverkusen remain in the hunt for Europe but another blank, despite a decent display, is troubling for a side with the attacking talents of Julian Brandt, Leon Bailey, Kai Havertz, Karim Bellarabi and Kevin Volland.
"I had a good feeling after the game against Gladbach," said Bosz of his debut defeat. "I've had another look at the match and have to say that our performance was even better than I thought on Saturday."
Change already noticeable
Labaddia also took the time to watch that defeat and has already identified that Saturday's opponents have "changed their style a bit since appointing their new head coach."
The clash between these two had sometimes been dubbed El Plastico in Germany because of the two clubs' associations with businesses - Volkswagen for Wolfsburg and chemical company Bayer for Leverkusen. But Labaddia says he's "expecting a very intense encounter."
"I'm sure there will be plenty of instances where both teams cancel each other out," he continued. "That's why it's likely to boil down to whoever capitalises on their opponents' mistakes.
As the games start to tick down, neither of these sides can afford many more slip ups.
Elsewhere on matchday 19
- Leaders Borussia Dortmund did enough to start the Rückrunde with a narrow win over Leipzig. Their next test, at home to a Hannover side yet to win on the road, looks simple. But the pressure on Lucien Favre's young side will grow by the week and they will know they must not relent.
- Their main chasers, Bayern Munich, have a similarly simple-looking task, at home to 16th-placed Stuttgart. But the Swabians pulled off an jawdropping 4-1 win at the Allianz Arena in May, albeit while Bayern were celebrating a sixth straight title. Can lightning strike twice?
- Not so long ago, Fortuna Düsseldorf looked destined for a relegation scrap. But four wins from four, including a shock victory over Borussia Dortmund, have put 10 points between Friedhelm Funke's newly-promoted side and the automatic relegation spots. They look for number five against an inconsistent RB Leipzig side on Sunday.
Matchday 19 fixtures
Hertha Berlin vs. Schalke (Friday, 20:30 CET)
Borussia Dortmund vs. Hannover (Saturday 15:30)
Borussia Mönchengladbach vs. Augsburg
Freiburg vs. Hoffenheim
Mainz vs. Nuremberg
Wolfsburg vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Werder Bremen vs. Eintracht Frankfurt (Saturday 18:30)
Bayern Munich vs. Stuttgart (Sunday 15:30)
Fortuna Düsseldorf vs. RB Leipzig (Sunday 18:00)