Borussia Mönchengladbach proved to be Bayern Munich’s bogey side last season, winning both encounters against the Bavarians. But a crucial trio departed from Gladbach while Bayern have become an unstoppable force. How will things pan out this time around? This and a lot more in TheHardTackle’s Bundesliga preview for the final matchday before the winter break.
Bayern Munich vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach
Jupp Heynckes’ side have done nothing wrong all season long and currently sit comfortably at the top of the table. Their improved bench strength has been all the more obvious this season with players like Thomas Müller and Mario Mandžukić coming to the fore and stamping their authority over seemingly sealed first team positions.
Bayern will be expected to field the same squad that faced off against Augsburg last weekend. If Heynckes does feel the need to make a change to his side, the only one that seems likely is Mandžukić being replaced by Mario Gomez. The burly German striker showed his prowess in the penalty area against Augsburg and this might prove to be enough to convince Heynckes to replace Mandžukić. The Croat has begun to look a little shoddy over recent weeks and is probably in need of a rest.
Borussia Mönchengladbach should be renamed Juan Arango 12 for all that the midfielder has done for the club this season. Last week’s 48-yard strike was testament to this man’s brilliance and he will be most crucial for Gladbach on Friday. Lucien Favre will be without Igor de Camargo and long term casualty Filip Daems. As a replacement for de Camargo, Favre will probably use Mike Hanke alongside Patrick Herrmann. Granit Xhaka has struggled to keep his spot in midfield and one should expect to see Nordtveit and Marx flanked by Arango and Rupp in midfield. The back four should remain unchanged from last week.
Bayern will look to take the game to Gladbach, especially attempting to outclass them in midfield. Gladbach’s defense has looked shaky throughout the season and this will be a constant worry for Favre on Friday. On a brighter note for Gladbach, their best defender, Tony Jantschke, will be on Bayern’s most lethal flank, that of Franck Ribery.
Unlike the two meetings from last season, this one should prove to be a fairly one sided affair. The only hope for Gladbach will be Arango’s brilliance or a gift offered to them by their former player, Dante.
Hoffenheim vs. Borussia Dortmund
Markus Babbel’s departure from the Rhein-Neckar Arena didn’t help Hoffenheim last week as they slumped to their tenth defeat of the season. Interim coach Frank Kramer shifted from a 4-2-3-1 to a more defensive 4-3-2-1 against Hamburg but Hoffenheim remained their hapless selves.
Like their opponents, Dortmund suffered a surprise defeat at the hands of a resurgent Wolfsburg. A woeful decision that saw Wolfsburg awarded a penalty and Marcel Schmelzer sent off was enough to ensure that Dortmund fell further behind Bayern.
Both sides will be all the more hungry to pick up a win this week and Hoffenheim’s new 4-3-2-1 might just work in closing down Dortmund. Hoffenheim’s midfield trio of Rudy, Salihovic and Williams will be far from easy to break down but the absence of Mathieu Delpierre in defense will be a massive blow. Although Schmelzer was sent off last week, he will feature in this week’s tie as the DFB revoked the suspension.
Kramer will look to use Roberto Firmino, his most potent weapon, against Dortmund’s weaker left flank. From a defensive perspective, he will have to be very wary of his own left flank since Dortmund look all the more dangerous when attacking from that side. Hoffenheim fans will be hoping that the disastrous keeping that they’ve been subjected to comes to an end this weekend, but with Koen Casteels still in goal, things seem dull as ever.
Dortmund will have to be considered favorites for this game but their inability to dispose off smaller sides will be a niggling factor on Sunday. Hoffenheim can only look to their past record against Dortmund for inspiration to down the reigning champions.
Greuther Fürth vs. Augsburg
Both sides have done nothing right this season and sit in the relegation zone at the moment. They’ve both failed to win a single game in their last five matches and have looked miserable offensively. Fürth’s disciplinary record has been far from acceptable, and they currently top the table for the most number of cards received. Expect a scrappy affair between two desperate sides and don’t be too surprised if you see a lot of cards at the Play-mobil Stadion.
Fortuna Düsseldorf vs. Hannover 96
The hosts have proven to be a tough cookie to break at the Esprit Arena this season and playing against a Hannover side who have struggled to find form away from home might make for a very one sided affair. Malezas and Langeneke continue to be unavailable due to injury but this has proven to be a blessing in disguise for Düsseldorf over the past few weeks. Hannover’s injury problems aren’t too large with Felipe, Andreasen and Stindl being the only players unable to make the trip.
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Hamburger SV
After last week’s little stutter against Hannover, Leverkusen host high flying Hamburg this weekend. Both sides have been impressive in recent weeks, with Leverkusen’s run helping them into second place and Hamburg’s results pushing them to seventh.
Leverkusen have no new injuries or suspensions to deal with and will be expected to go with the same 4-3-3 from last week. Hamburg too have no added woes and should field a ditto side from their 2-0 win last Friday.
Prepare yourselves for a high tempo game that is bound to provide a fair number of goals. Son, Kießling and Schürrle to score, and Leverkusen to win.
Wolfsburg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt
Post-Magath joys hit a whole new high last week when Wolfsburg beat Dortmund and they will surely be looking to build on that win with another top half scalp. Diego has found his old form and with the assistance of Bas Dost, has formed a lethal attacking partnership. But if Wolfsburg’s attack is to be considered lethal, Eintracht Frankfurt’s will have to be thought of as ultimately lethal. After hammering four past Bremen, the Eagles will want to put the sword to Wolfsburg’s defense and push for a top three finish. Once again, brace yourselves for a high tempo game that should swing like a Juan Arango strike on a windy day.
Mainz vs. Stuttgart
This is the most important game this week in terms of positions in the table as a slip up from either team could see them lose out drastically in the race for European football. Mainz’s loss last week left them at the bottom of the Europa League pile, while Stuttgart’s three consecutive victories sees them inch towards a Champions League spot. This will prove to be a dodgy affair, both sides knowing that a point will be enough to keep them safe in the race for European football and leaving them fairly happy in the holiday season.
Schalke vs. Freiburg
Schalke have been disastrous of late, losing three of their last five games. Afellay and Papadapoulos’ injuries will only add to Huub Stevens’ woes and a possible sacking will be on everyone’s minds this weekend. Unlike their opponents, Freiburg have been decently consistent and always prove to be a difficult side to break down. TheHardTackle predicts a harsh and cold winter break for the Royal Blues and a harsher one for Huub Stevens.
Werder Bremen vs. Nürnberg
Thomas Schaaf’s boys were humbled by a determined and hungry Eintracht Frankfurt last week but their uncanny ability to bounce back from these demoralizing defeats will be a huge thorn in Nürnberg’s hopes to enter the European battle. Even with Aaron Hunt set to miss this game, Werder Bremen will have to be considered strong favorites for this one.