Berlin: Bayer Leverkusen open their German league campaign against Mainz on Sunday with ex-Germany captain Michael Ballack under pressure to make the starting line-up and prove he still has a career.
The ex-Chelsea star spent most of last season on the bench after suffering back-to-back injuries as Leverkusen finished second in the Bundesliga.
The 34-year-old has said this may be his last season with Leverkusen and is unwilling to prolong his contract past June 2012 with no guarantee of a place in the starting line-up and having been dropped by Germany.
There is no place for him in Joachim Loew's squad for Wednesday's friendly against Brazil in Stuttgart and he last played for Germany in March 2010 in the 1-0 defeat to Argentina.
Ballack signed for Leverkusen last summer after four seasons at Chelsea, but his place in the starting side is not guaranteed, especially after last Saturday's debacle in Dresden.
Ballack came off the bench for captain Simon Rolfes with his side 3-0 up against Dynamo Dresden in the first round of the German Cup, only for his team to crash to a 4-3 defeat in extra time.
"Sure, from outside it (the defeat) could be linked to Michael Ballack," admitted Leverkusen coach Robin Dutt.
"But Ballack is certainly not responsible alone, it doesn't make any sense to analyse the role of one individual player."
Television cameras in Dresden showed Ballack yawning repeatedly on the bench and he then looked far from awake on the pitch as he failed to prevent Dresden striker Robert Koch from scoring two late goals.
Ballack is competing with captain Rolfes, Lars Bender, Sidney Sam and Renato Augusto for a starting place, as well as Leverkusen's new signing Andre Schuerrle.
"Given the quality in central midfield, I reserve the right to pick players based on the opposition and our style," said Dutt.
"There will be three happy faces and three unhappy faces each week."
As an attacking midfielder and a rising star here, Schuerrle is in the Germany squad to face Brazil - more than can be said for Ballack.
Leverkusen have qualified for Champions League football this season, but more appearances on the bench will inflict further damage on Ballack's falling stocks.