The Bundesliga title race is heating up. Schalke look to close in on Bayern, while the league leaders contest the North-South Derby at Hamburg this weekend. Meanwhile Stuttgart revisit the site of their epic 4-4 draw last year against Dortmund. All this and more in TheHardTackle’s preview of Match Day 10.

Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Greuther Fürth


Eintracht Frankfurt have been the surprise package of this Hinrunde.

Match day 10 kicks off with a Friday encounter between two newly-promoted sides who have forged radically different paths in the Bundesliga. After a scintillating start to the season, Frankfurt are third in the table but have been experiencing some ups and downs lately, with their last five matches yielding a DWLWL run of form. Fürth meanwhile have been consistently low-key, and are currently acting as the league’s footstools as they sit in 18th place with six losses, three draws, and only one win.

Friday also marks the reunion of Olivier Occéan with his old team. After helping Fürth secure promotion last season, the Canadian striker transferred to Frankfurt where he has continued to impress as one of the contributing factors to The Eagles’ success so far. This week Armin Veh will be without Carlos Zambrano, who has been sidelined with a fractured toe until December. Mike Büskens’ do-without list is slightly longer, as the team deals with a number of long-term injuries including Djiby Fall who was signed as a replacement for Occéan.

Büskens’ Occéan-less side must now attempt to go where no club has gone before this season — and defeat Eintracht Frankfurt at home. Neither the odds nor history are in their favor. Of the last 10 meetings between these teams, Fürth have only won two matches; and the last time they defeated Frankfurt at the Waldstadion was back in 2001. All things considered, it looks like Frankfurt will be getting back on track with a comfortable home win.

Borussia Dortmund vs. VfB Stuttgart

Stuttgart came back in stoppage time to draw 4-4 against Dortmund at Signal Iduna Park (March 2012)

Stuttgart pulled off the comeback of 2011/12 in their 4-4 draw against Dortmund.

Stuttgart ended last season undefeated against domestic double winners Dortmund, and this particular fixture produced what many consider to be the best match of 2011/12. From last-minute goals to coaches leaping about the sidelines, caps akimbo and suit jackets fluttering in the breeze — Stuttgart’s 4-4 draw at Signal Iduna Park last year packed all that and more into one roller coaster of a Bundesliga thriller.

A year later, both sides are bit worse off than when they met last. But both teams won comfortably in their second-round DFB Pokal matches on Wednesday, and will be looking to carry that momentum into the weekend. Dortmund’s golden boy Mario Götze is back and in fine form, as is Stuttgart’s Bosnian striker Vedad Ibisevic. Jürgen Klopp is still contending with injuries to Blaszczykowski and Bender; meanwhile, Bruno Labbadia can add Gotoku Sakai to his growing list of the walking wounded. The young Japanese international suffered a partial ligament tear in his right ankle on match day 8 and sat out the Pokal tie against St. Pauli. In his place, 19-year-old Antonio Rüdiger may get a start as the Swabians travel to Dortmund on Saturday.

After two worrying months, Stuttgart seem to be finally hitting their stride. Dortmund on the other hand have had an exhilarating but also exhausting week, from a historic Champions League win to big Bundesliga clashes to the added strain of a midweek cup tie. Another draw could be on the cards for this fixture, but it’s unlikely that it will live up to last season’s thriller.

Hamburger SV vs. Bayern Munich

Arjen Robben is back and looking better than ever. Fresh off his injury return, Robben captained Bayern to a 4-0 win over Kaiserslautern in the DFB Pokal, silencing any lingering criticism from Bayern’s loss to Leverkusen on match day 9. Robben admitted in interviews that he is still not yet 100% match fit — but that fact did not deter him at all as he bagged two goals and an assist against Kaiserslautern on Wednesday night. With this confidence boost in hand, Bayern travel to the Imtech Arena this weekend for the North-South Derby.

Hamburg are without Petr Jiracek, who is out for a few weeks with a muscle tear. But with Rafael van der Vaart, Artiom Rudnevs, and Heung-Min Son leading the charge, Thorsten Fink’s side have hit fine form recently. The one loss to Stuttgart aside, Hamburg have been steadily making their way up the table.

It has been over half a decade since either of these two teams managed a win at the other’s home ground. With both Ribéry and Robben back, however, Bayern will be the heavy favorites to put still more distance between themselves and the rest of the Bundesliga as they continue their trophy quest in style.

1899 Hoffenheim vs. Schalke 04

Schalke will be looking to defeat Hoffenheim at their home ground for the first time ever, as the Royal Blues visit the Rhein-Neckar Arena this weekend. They will like their chances, as Hoffenheim have managed only two wins so far this season. Markus Babbel’s team have conceded eight goals in their last three matches, including a 3-3 draw against Greuther Fürth which saw Hoffenheim surrender a three-goal lead at home to give their visitors a point.

Hoffenheim are still without Chris and Matthias Jaissle due to injury, and Sejad Salihovic who is serving out a suspension. Schalke meanwhile will miss Christoph Metzelder and Marco Höger. But with a massive squad list, team selection will not be a problem for Huub Stevens, whose side has been in superb form of late, domestically and in European competition. Schalke can look forward to another three points on Saturday, and stay in the title race at just four points behind Bayern.

Borussia Mönchengladbach vs. SC Freiburg

Gladbach bowed out to Fortuna in the DFB Pokal second round. Marc-André ter Stegen saved a penalty but it was not enough to keep Fortuna at bay, as Nando Rafael scored in extra time to eliminate last year’s semifinalists. Freiburg meanwhile are through to the next round with a 2-0 win over 1967 Bundesliga champions Eintracht Braunschweig.

Neither team has been able to find much consistency in the league this season, with Gladbach in 9th place while Freiburg lurks just below them at 12th. Furthermore Gladbach’s highest-priced player Luuk de Jong is still out with injury, and will not be back until December. The 24 times that these two teams have met previously have produced a mixed bag of results, and all considered, this match could be the flip-a-coin moment of the week.

FC Nürnberg vs. VfL Wolfsburg

In retrospect, Wolfsburg sacking Felix Magath may yet prove to be the best decision any club will make this season. The Wolves were a team reborn last week as they romped to a 4-1 victory over Fortuna Düsseldorf, in stark contrast to the lackluster play they had been delivering all season under Magath. Lorenz-Günther Köstner once saved Wolfsburg from relegation after the sacking of Armin Veh in 2010, and the interim coach looks ready to do the same again, in the wake of Magath’s departure.

Nürnberg have been poor since mid-September, and their six-match winless streak looks like it will soon become seven. Der Club are without their injured captain Raphael Schäfer, as well as Javier Pinola who is serving a yellow card suspension.

Despite back-to-back wins over Fortuna and FSV Frankfurt (DFB Pokal), Wolfsburg are hovering just above the relegation zone. Three points at Nürnberg will be sorely needed to bolster their chances, as Wolfsburg face a much tougher challenge in Bayer Leverkusen next week. But if Köstner’s charges can continue their current form, consecutive wins over Nürnberg and Leverkusen will not be such a long shot.

Hannover 96 vs. FC Augsburg

Hannover have hit a rough patch of form, with the results of their last five matches in all competitions being DLWLW. The two wins came in Europa League and the DFB Pokal. Mirko Slomka’s men have not recorded a Bundesliga win since September, and are in the bottom half of the table for the first time in two years.

Last week’s defeat to Gladbach was Hannover’s first home loss in a year and a half. Augsburg on the other hand won only one of their last 16 away matches. And Augsburg have a growing injury list, topped by skipper Paul Verhaegh who is out for five weeks with a ligament tear. Hannover themselves are contending with injuries to Leon Andreasen and Felipe, while Adrian Nikci is still recovering from a bout of meningitis.

But the H96 faithful will be comforted by the fact that their prolific striker Mame Diouf scored all of his goals at home. Hannover remain the most clinical side in the Bundesliga, converting nearly 25% of their shots on goal. And keeper Ron-Robert Zieler has been outstanding, most recently putting Hannover past Dynamo Dresden in the DFB Pokal with his heroics in the penalty shootout.

The two teams have only met four times in competitive matches, and all four instances ended in draws. But Hannover will be ready to snap this record, along with their winless streak, as they welcome Augsburg to the AWD-Arena this weekend.

Bayer Leverkusen vs. Fortuna Düsseldorf

When the season began, few would have predicted that with half the Hinrunde gone Bayer Leverkusen would be neck and neck with defending champions Borussia Dortmund — in fifth place. Sami Hyypiä and Sascha Lewandowski have not had the easiest job since taking over at Leverkusen, but the duo have proven themselves and their young team capable of competing with the best in the Bundesliga.

As they welcome local rivals Fortuna Düsseldorf this weekend, Leverkusen will be without Michal Kadlec, Bernd Leno, and Renato Augusto. On Fortuna’s side, Reisinger, Malezas, and Soares are sidelined with injury, while Oliver Fink is suspended.

Leverkusen are undefeated in their last 10 matches in all competitions, most memorably stunning Bayern at the Allianz Arena last week. Meanwhile, Fortuna’s only two wins in the Bundesliga have been against Augsburg and Fürth, the two teams currently occupying the relegation spots. Norbert Meier’s defensive tactics are keeping his team afloat in the league, but not doing much more than that. A draw would be Fortuna’s best case scenario as they visit the Bay Arena on Sunday, but it will most likely be Leverkusen claiming all the spoils — and probably all the goals, as well.

Werder Bremen vs. Mainz 05

Thomas Schaaf’s side have not had a great calendar year: in this time, Werder Bremen managed to average less than one point earned per game played. And as they welcome Mainz to the Weserstadion this average may plummet still further. Bremen lost their last two home games against Mainz, conceding five goals in the process while not scoring a single one for themselves.

Mainz will be looking to continue this fantastic away record against Bremen. And they have the goalscoring power in their arsenal to do it. With his hat trick against Hoffenheim last week, Adam Szalai leapfrogged the likes of Kiessling and Müller in the goalscorer charts to land just one goal shy of league leader Mario Mandzukic.

This fixture pits the oldest team in the Bundesliga against the youngest — Mainz clocking in at an average age of 27, while Bremen boast a verdant 23. Sunday may see the victory of veteran experience over rookie enthusiasm, as Mainz set out to prove that it’s not quite time for a changing of the guard just yet.