Bundesliga teams made history this week as an unprecedented 7 teams made it through to the knockout stages in Europe. On Matchday 16, a tight mid-table crush means the race for next season’s European berths is hotter than ever as we approach Hinrunde’s end. TheHardTackle previews all the weekend’s action.
Hamburger SV vs. 1899 Hoffenheim
Hoffenheim sacked Markus Babbel this week, after an abysmal run of form: the team are in the relegation play-off spot, having gathered only 12 points after 15 matchdays. Hoffenheim won only one of their last 10 matches, including the four straight losses leading up to to Babbel’s departure.
With interim coach Frank Kramer at the helm, Hoffenheim now begin their search for redemption at Hamburg. in the short history between these two teams (dating back to 2008 when Hoffenheim won promotion to the Bundesliga), there have been no away wins for either team — and that record does not look ready to break anytime soon.
Both teams are struggling with injury and inconsistent form. HSV are still without Rafael van der Vaart. Meanwhile Hoffenheim must continue to make do without Delpierre, Chris, Malbasic, and Tim Wiese. Compounded with their managerial transition, the rest of the Hinrunde is looking a bit grim for Hoffenheim. HSV should get the win, boosted by home turf advantage, as they continue to put in an unlikely bid for a European berth.
Borussia Dortmund vs. VfL Wolfsburg
While Dortmund battled it out to a draw at Bayern last week, Wolfsburg snapped up a point against Hamburg after being down 0-1 at halftime. Though the two teams are currently occupying opposite ends of the table, Wolfsburg’s visit to Signal Iduna Park on Saturday should be an entertaining affair.
Wolfsburg have regained something of a passion since Magath’s departure, though the poor season’s start went on perhaps for a bit too long. Wolfsburg are still 15th in the table, and still several wins away from a mid-table position. Three points at Dortmund seem unlikely, but Wolfsburg have everything to fight here if they want to avoid eyeing the drop zone for the rest of the season.
Their hosts Dortmund are coming off a brilliant Champions League run which saw them end up topping Group D. Domestically things are going a little less swimmingly for BVB. Although a title defense may be out of their grasp now, as they sit a full 11 points behind Bayern, a 2013/14 Champions League spot is still very much up for grabs.
Dortmund are undefeated in their last 11 matches in all competitions, and Wolfsburg have only ever won twice at Dortmund. However it would be underestimating Wolfsburg to predict a routine win for Dortmund. A home win is certainly more than likely, but expect Wolfsburg to make Jürgen Klopp’s men fight for the three points up for grabs.
FC Augsburg vs. Bayern Munich
After the “little Clásico” last week against Dortmund, Matchday 16 sees Bayern take on a real derby — albeit one of a rather lower caliber. Bundesliga cellar dwellers FC Augsburg open their doors to their Bavarian neighbors. This is one visit that may well end up looking more like a pantry raid.
Augsburg are now 8 games without a win, after notching their hitherto sole victory of the season, in October versus Werder Bremen. On the other hand, what is there left to say about Bayern’s season that hasn’t already been said, superlative’d, and metaphor’d?
A few injuries will be on Jupp Heynckes’ mind this week, including Holger Badstuber who just underwent knee surgery and Arjen Robben, whose back problems may keep him out for the rest of the Hinrunde. Nevertheless, against an opponent like Augsburg, Bayern are more than capable of getting a win even if Heynckes chooses to rest half his starting XI.
1. FC Nürnberg vs. Fortuna Düsseldorf
Last week, Fortuna Düsseldorf sent The Eagles crashing to earth with a 4-0 win over a 10-man Eintracht Frankfurt. Though Karim Matmour’s second yellow undoubtedly facilitated his team’s demise, the emphatic final scoreline is a testament to some spunky football on Fortuna’s part. That win put them in prime position to push for a mid-table finish over the last weeks of the Hinrunde — and this week presents the perfect opportunity to distance themselves from Nürnberg who are currently two points behind in the table.
It will not be a walk in the park. Though Nürnberg succumbed to a 1-0 loss thanks to Leverkusen last week, Der Club have lost only twice at home this season. Norbert Meier will find a tough fight in store when he and Fortuna visit this historic ground on Saturday.
Both teams need the points to keep themselves away from the relegation zone. Fortuna are on an upward trend, having defeated HSV and Eintracht recently and held Dortmund to a draw. Nürnberg meanwhile found their only recent win against Hoffeinheim. If Fortuna can capture a fraction of the spirit that delivered them last week, their changes of staying up in the Bundesliga will start to look very good indeed.
VfB Stuttgart vs. FC Schalke 04
Schalke drew against Montpellier midweek to earn a well-deserved top spot in their Champions League group. It was a silver lining for Huub Steven’s side, who ended up one of the losers of the Bundesliga’s “English Week” — gathering only two points from three matchdays. The Royal Blues’ up and down form of late in the league is a clear sign that team and manager are struggling to keep up with the demands of three competitions. The good news for Schalke is that they are still in 4th place. The bad news is that there is a pack of very hungry clubs right below them in the table ready to wrest that spot away from them, unless Huub Stevens gets his house in order.
One of those teams is their hosts this week. Stuttgart picked up 9 points in their last four games. It was by no means an overachievement for the Swabian side, however, given that their last two opponents were relegation-zoners Augsburg and Furth. As Stuttgart welcome Schalke this week, Bruno Labbadia will have to cope furthermore with several monkey wrenches in his lineup: he is without Cacau, Kvist, and Hoogland to injury, while captain Serdar Tasci is serving a red card suspension.
Both teams have their own struggles to contend with, but both are also teams capable of delivering scintillating attacking performances. Stuttgart vs. Schalke may be a match to watch out for this weekend. And with any luck, fans can look forward to an exciting if unpredictable and error-riddled game.
SC Freiburg vs. Greuther Furth
As the Hinrunde approaches its end, it may be time to admit that Greuther Furth were promoted too early and their ill-preparedness for the Bundesliga is showing. Furth currently boast a winless streak in the double digits and a goal difference of -16. To further Mike Buskens’ misery this week, Furth are away at Freiburg, a team they have not defeated since 2003.
Furth are without Henrich Schmidtgal, who is serving a suspension. On Freiburg’s side, Fallou Diagne is also suspended, alongside Julian Schuster. This will be a chance for Freiburg to bounce back and pick up where they left off with a 3-0 derby win over Stuttgart three match days ago.
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Werder Bremen
After a flying start to the 2012/13 season, The Eagles have found their wings clipped recently. They have won only one match in their last 7. Matchday 16 provided a particularly painful setback, as Karim Matmour’s suspension after picking up two yellows in a matter of 12 minutes facilitated a 4-0 loss to Fortuna Dusseldorf. As Eintracht Frankfurt prepare to host Werder Bremen this weekend, Armin Veh and his team will be desperate to recapture the good form that propelled them to the top of the table.
Werder Bremen have pulled off a good if not exactly consistent season so far. Their up-and-down form was exemplified during “the English Week,” during which they drew Wolfsburg, lost to Leverkusen 4-1, and then trounced Hoffenheim by the same scoreline. Marko Arnautovic’s hat trick at Hoffenheim bodes well for Bremen; a breakthrough for the 23-year-old Austrian striker may be just what Thomas Schaaf needs to propel his young team to the next level.
A pity that Karim Matmour will miss this match due to suspension, as Frankfurt vs. Bremen shapes up to be perhaps one of the more dynamic match ups of the weekend. Bremen have a chance to surpass Frankfurt in the table if they manage a win here, and so it remains to be seem whether Veh’s Eagles will continue their earthward plunge.
Mönchengladbach vs. FSV Mainz 05
Gladbach look to be finally on an upward trend, currently undefeated in their last five matches in all competitions, including a gusty 1-1 draw at rivals Borussia Dortmund. Mainz meanwhile are knocking on the glass ceiling, as they occupy (for the moment) the last European berth. Two European hopefuls clash as Gladbach welcome Mainz on Sunday, and somebody’s good run of form will have to give.
Mainz’s Christian Wetklo will miss the match through red card suspension. Lucien Favre on the other hand will have a nearly full squad to select from, and coupled with home ground advantage, this does not bode well for Mainz. A win for Favre’s side would see Gladbach surpass Mainz in the table, as only two points currently separate the teams.
Hannover 96 vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Not many would have predicted that, come Matchday 16, Bayer Leverkusen would be second in the table after Bayern, and ahead of both Dortmund and Schalke. The crucible of last season has produced a surprising bit of steel in this young Leverkusen side. With an 8-point cushion between them and the first non-European berth, Leverkusen are well on track to a respectable Hinrunde table position.
Leverkusen are also 8 points adrift of the league leaders, and three points at Hannover on Sunday will be absolutely necessary not only to keep them ahead of the pack but within sniffing distance of Bayern’s platinum standard. Hannover will have their work cut out for them as they try to hold off their visitors. They will be without Felipe and Andreasen still, and also Karim Haggui who is serving a yellow card suspension. Mirko Slomka’s side are currently in the bottom half of the table, after a month of subpar performances.
Both Leverkusen and Hannover were in action midweek for Europa League, and both progressed into the knockout rounds. How the teams’ respective managers cope with the strain of multiple competitions, now, will reveal who is a real contender. For the moment, Leverkusen are the more convincing side and look set to take three points at Hannover.