Bundesliga teams are in for a grueling stretch of competition as a mid-week Matchday 14 arrives right upon the heels of Matchday 13. TheHardTackle previews all the upcoming action.

Borussia Dortmund vs. Fortuna Düsseldorf


The Bundesliga champions are looking like themselves again.

Borussia Dortmund’s up-and-down start to the 2012/13 Bundesliga season had some critics wondering if Jürgen Klopp was prioritizing Champions League football this year. Their European performances have been more than impressive. With a ruthless 4-1 beat down of Ajax last week, Dortmund sit atop Group D, above both Real Madrid and Manchester City.

But Dortmund’s league form may be finally catching up to their Champions League standard. All told, the reigning champions’ Bundesliga form has not been any worse than that of last season when they won the domestic double. The fact that they are still 9 points adrift of Bayern is a testament to just how good the Bavarian giants have been this season. But with a hard-fought 2-1 win at Mainz over the weekend, Dortmund stretched their undefeated streak to five and are now in second place. Another win would go a long way toward resuscitating their title defense.

It is a hungry, in-form Dortmund that Fortuna Düsseldorf face when they travel to Signal Iduna Park, setting up a clash between Fortuna’s stingy defending versus Dortmund’s free-flowing attack. On Matchday 13, Norbert Meier’s unapologetically defensive tactics saw Fortuna pick up another clean sheet and their first home win of the season. But with Lewandowski & Co. in devastating form, even another sterling performance from Fabian Giefer may not be enough to keep Dortmund from finding the back of Fortuna’s net and taking all three points.

Meier looks to be without the services of Dani Schahin, Fortuna’s highest-scoring player this season, who is dealing with an ankle injury. Klopp should have no serious injury concerns, but may again be without Sebastian Kehl who sat out the Mainz game due to knee problems. The last time Fortuna and Dortmund met in the Bundesliga was back in 1997, but an encounter in the DFB-Pokal last year saw Dortmund clinch the win in a penalty shoot-out. Unless Meier’s men come up with something truly special, they can expect the same result from tomorrow’s trip to Dortmund.

Hamburger SV vs. Schalke 04


Huub Stevens’ team has disappointed in the Bundesliga during recent weeks.

As Schalke travel to Hamburg on Tuesday both teams will be feeling a bit blue, and not just because of their team colors. HSV’s resurgence from a dismal season start was thanks in no small part to the talismanic Rafael van der Vaart and a youthfully fearless Heung-Min Son. But both Van der Vaart and Son suffered thigh injuries last week, and Thorsten Fink’s squad list is beginning to look more like a directory of the walking wounded, as Gojko Kacar, Petr Jiracek, Ivo Ilicevic, and Jacopo Sala are also sidelined.

Meanwhile Schalke seem to be feeling the strain of European competition, as disappointing performances on back-to-back matchdays saw them slip behind rivals Dortmund in the table. A trip to Hamburg could complicate matters for them even further. Schalke defeated a struggling HSV twice last season; previously however, the Royal Blues had managed only one win in eight tries. Schalke manager Huub Stevens has faced HSV a total of 18 times, losing eight times and drawing five.

Stevens and his team have a chance to ameliorate that record this week, against a struggling HSV, if they can shake off the individual errors that have plagued them of late. With Bayern the runaway favorites and Dortmund hitting scintillating form, Schalke desperately need three points from their visit to the Imtech Arena to stay in the running for a CL spot and a long shot at the league title.

Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Mainz 05

Daniel Caligiuri’s goal against Dortmund was one of the highlights of Matchday 13. Though that match ultimately ended in defeat for Thomas Tuchel’s men, Mainz can take heart from an all-around decent start to the season: they are currently in 9th place, just two points off a coveted European berth.

If Mainz have been decent, then their hosts Eintracht Frankfurt have been exceptional. The newly-promoted side have slipped from second to fourth place in recent weeks, but Armin Veh’s Eagles remain the over-performing side of the season, and are one of two Bundesliga teams who have yet to lose at home.

As Frankfurt prepare to host Frankfurt, Veh will have to make do without Karim Matmour who picked up two yellow cards in the Schalke draw over the weekend. Tuchel meanwhile is still without Choupo-Moting, Ede, and Bungert. Five of the last 10 meetings between Frankfurt and Mainz have ended in draws, and neither side has managed a win at the other’s home ground since their first encounter in 1986: a Pokal tie which Frankfurt nicked 1-0. A similar result may be in store this week, as Frankfurt look like they are not ready for their Cinderella story to be over just yet.

Hannover 96 vs. Greuther Fürth

Fürth’s visit to Hannover this week will be the first time these two teams have faced off since 2002, and for the first time ever in the Bundesliga. Of their previous encounters in the 2.Bundesliga, Fürth only ever won two, at the turn of the millennium. Mike Büskens’ team have not exactly taken to life in the top flight of German football, winning only one match since their promotion.

Against Hannover they face one of the most prolific sides in the Bundesliga. The only teams who have scored more goals this season than Hannover are Frankfurt, Dortmund, and Bayern. On the other hand, Hannover have also conceded more goals than anybody else apart from Hoffenheim. But with the comparative quality of the two teams taken into account, a comfortable home win will be well within the abilities of Mirko Slomka’s free-scoring side.

Hannover are without Andreasen, Konan, and Felipe, while Fürth’s Sercan Sararer will miss the match due to suspension after picking up a second yellow card in last week’s draw against Nürnberg.

SC Freiburg vs. Bayern Munich


Freiburg defeated local rivals Stuttgart 3-0 on Matchday 12.

Freiburg come into this match off of a big derby win over Stuttgart, where they clobbered their Baden-Württemberg rivals 3-0. Now 6th in the table, Christian Streich’s team have exceeded expectations and are putting in a real challenge for a European berth. “Impressive” aptly describes this young Freiburg team. As for their visitors, superlatives simply fail when it comes to Bayern this season. Coming off a grueling Champions League fixture and missing both Gustavo and Robben, Bayern nevertheless dealt Hannover a 5-0 thrashing on Matchday 13. The Bavarians have now won 11 games out of 13, towering high above the rest of the Bundesliga with 34 points and a goal difference of +33.

Streich will be without Mensur Majdza, who misses the match due to yellow card suspension. Bayern’s squad list looks to be unchanged from the last matchday, and a similar result looks to be in store as well. For this fixture, Freiburg will have to throw not only the kitchen sink but the whole house if they want to avoid becoming casualty #12 en route to Bayern’s next trophy.

Werder Bremen vs. Bayer Leverkusen

Leverkusen travel to Bremen this week for a clash between two of the youngest sides in the Bundesliga, with an average age of just 23.5 between them. Werder Bremen’s performances this season have landed them in the midst of the midtable crush, just one point off a Europa League spot. Leverkusen on the other hand sit comfortably 5th with 24 points, just behind Frankfurt and Schalke on goal difference, and Die Werkself now look set to make a real push for Champions League football next season.

Bremen’s Lukas Schmitz will miss the match due to suspension, and Philipp Bargfrede is still sidelined with an achilles tendon injury. Leverkusen are without Karim Bellarabi, Sidney Sam, Michal Kadlec, and Daniel Schwaab. Bremen have done poorly against top-half teams this season, while Leverkusen currently hold the second-best form in the league after Dortmund. Having defeated both Bayern and Schalke, Leverkusen will like their chances as they attempt to deal Bremen their second home defeat of the season.

Borussia Mönchengladbach vs. VfL Wolfsburg

Since Felix Magath’s departure, Wolfsburg have gone from being the joke of the Bundesliga to rubbing elbows with Europa League contenders. Bas Dost’s second half goal at Bremen nicked a point for his team last week, pulling Wolfsburg ever farther away from the relegation zone that had haunted their season’s start.

Gladbach also played to a 1-1 draw on Matchday 13, with Patrick Herrmann’s goal salvaging a point for The Foals at Augsburg. Lucien Favre will have had less reason than Wolfsburg’s Köstner to find optimism in a draw, however, as Gladbach are still struggling to replicate anything like last season’s form.

This match could be the toss-up moment of Matchday 14. Favre will be working with a similar injury list from previous matchdays, with Luuk de Jong, Filip Daems and Janis Blaswich sidelined. Wolfsburg will miss Josue due to a yellow card suspension, as well as Patrick Helms and Vaclav Pilar due to injury. Neither side has kept more than two clean sheets this season, and though the result is unpredictable, an entertaining match should be on the cards.

VfB Stuttgart vs. FC Augsburg

Stuttgart have an elephant in the room, and it is a question: How long can Bruno Labbadia keep his job? A tumultuously mediocre season start has seen Stuttgart struggle to stay afloat both domestically and in Europe. This form most recently culminated in a 3-0 derby loss to Freiburg, after which vice-captain Christian Gentner admitted that the team is feeling the strain of participating in three competitions.

But Labbadia could not have ordered a better match to boost his job security as Stuttgart welcome Augsburg for Matchday 14. With a lengthy injury list and relegation-bound record, Augsburg are struggling to stay alive in the Bundesliga. Markus Weinzierl’s team have won only one match this season, conceding 23 goals in the process while scoring only 9.

Stuttgart are without Tim Hoogland and Cacau, while Augsburg will be working around injuries to Jan Moravek, Tobias Werner, Dominik Rinhardt, Simon Jentzsch, and captain Paul Verhaegh. Stuttgart have everything to gain this week, as back-to-back fixtures against bottom-of-the-league teams present them with an opportunity to grab some points ahead of the winter break. Three points will be heavily expected of the home side on Wednesday.

FC Nürnberg vs. 1899 Hoffenheim

After an aggressive draw against Bayern, Nürnberg drew again on Matchday 13, this time in a drab affair against cellar-dwellers Greuther Fürth. On Wednesday, Nürnberg take on fellow relegation hopefuls Hoffenheim for three precious points to carry them away from the drop zone. Der Club are without Markus Mendler, Adam Hlousek, and Alexander Stephan due to injury. Markus Feulner, who scored the equalizing goal against Bayern on Matchday 12, will miss the match after being red-carded in the Fürth match.

Hoffenheim meanwhile are without Filip Malbasic, Matthias Jaissle, Jannik Vestergaard, Stefan Thesker — and Tim Wiese, who is out for rest of the season after tearing ligaments in training. It has been a difficult Hinrunde for Markus Babbel’s young side, and it will get no easier: they still have to face Bremen, Hamburg, and Dortmund before the winter break. Three points at Nürnberg could be the last three Hoffenheim see in a while. But even one point may be out of reach for Babbel’s men this week, and Hoffenheim can all but count on welcoming the new year in the relegation zone.