Bayern Munich have a chance to clinch the Bundesliga title this weekend as they take on HSV. Meanwhile, with only 9 points separating 4th place from 14th, the battle for Europe is hotter than ever. All this and more in THT’s Bundesliga preview.
VfB Stuttgart vs. Borussia Dortmund
Trailing Bayern by 20 points and with 8 games remaining, Dortmund could still keep the title race alive by the slimmest of mathematical margins if they take all three points against Stuttgart on Saturday.
VfB Stuttgart: just 7 points off Champions League qualification, and just 8 points above relegation play-offs. This curious midtable situation says rather less about Stuttgart than it does about the Bundesliga as a whole. On paper, Dortmund’s trip to the Mercedes-Benz Arena looks done and dusted. The defending champions have the second best Rückrunde form in the Bundesliga, while Stuttgart boast the second worst, having amassed just 7 points since the winter break. Furthermore, William Kvist and Christian Molinaro are both suspended for Stuttgart.
But Stuttgart have become something of a bogey team against Dortmund, having managed to take points in 7 of their last 8 encounters between these two sides. The last four matches between Stuttgart and Dortmund have all ended in draws. Another one could be on the cards. Dortmund will be keeping half an eye on their midweek Champions League match against Malaga. And given the number of Dortmund players called to international duty last week, Jürgen Klopp may rest some key players against Stuttgart. The international break may have helped Stuttgart, on the other hand, as Vedad Ibisevic scored in Bosnia’s 3-1 victory over Greece and will carry that confidence into Saturday. Ibisevic’s importance this season cannot be overestimated; the striker has been responsible for 43% of the Swabians’ goal haul and is singlehandedly masking the fact that Stuttgart are one of the worst Bundesliga teams at creating chances.
Could this be the beginning of one of Stuttgart’s famous 11th hour resurgences? Unlikely, but not impossible. Taking points against Dortmund would do wonders for Stuttgart’s confidence, and with the table as tight as it is, every point counts in pushing Stuttgart a little closer to Europe, and a little further from the drop.
Schalke 04 vs. Hoffenheim
Dortmund aren’t the only ones facing down a bogey team this weekend. Schalke host relegation-bound Hoffenheim on Saturday, a team against whom the Royal Blues have, incredibly, a losing record. And the hot and cold nature of Schalke’s season so far leaves a distinct opportunity for Hoffenheim to shock Schalke once more.
Now in 5th place behind Frankfurt on goal difference, Schalke have been struggling their way back toward Champions League qualification despite inconsistent form, of late, beating Dortmund in the Revierderby before falling to Nuremberg 3-0. But Jens Keller and his side can take heart from the fact that Hoffenheim have the second worst away records this season; and Schalke have beaten Hoffenheim twice at the Veltins Arena.
The international break has not been kind to Schalke, however: Jermaine Jones had to get stitches for an injury sustained with the USMNT, Julian Draxler suffered a concussion in Kazakhstan, and Benedikt Höwedest is less than 100% after straining a thigh muscle while on duty for Germany. Jones has been ruled out of the weekend encounter, but Höwedes and Draxler will be available.
This will be a tricky encounter for Schalke, but it is a must-win if they hope to keep their Champions League ambitions alive.
Freiburg vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach
Two direct competitors in the race for Europe face off when Gladbach visit Freiburg on Saturday. Freiburg have been a consistent contender for the Europa League berths since December, but the team’s (hitherto) good defensive record has taken a beating recently as they let in 10 goals over the course of two match days, and slipped from 5th to 9th in the table. Gladbach meanwhile are steadily making their way upwards. The Foals have taken 8 points from their last 4 matches, and a win over Freiburg would put them in pole position for Europe as the Bundesliga enters its final phase.
However, shared spoils may be more likely than a clear cut victory. The two teams are relatively evenly matched, and Gladbach have more draws on the road than any other team in the Bundesliga this season. Another 1-1 draw, like their encounter in the fall, is well within the realm of possibility.
Fortuna Düsseldorf vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Düsseldorf host Leverkusen in a Rhine derby this weekend as these two teams on opposite ends of the table square off for bragging rights — and their respective fates next season.
Though 9 points clear of an automatic relegation spot, Fortuna are for all intents and purposes embroiled in a fight to stay afloat. 16th place Augsburg are on the rise, while Fortuna are exhibiting much the same form as they did during Hinrunde. With only 5 points between themselves and Augsburg, a couple bad performances could see Fortuna in the relegation play-offs again, come summer.
At the other end of the table, Leverkusen are well on course for Champions League football next season. However, 6 points between themselves and current 4th place Frankfurt are not enough to guarantee anything, as all remains to be played for in the final 8 matches of the Bundesliga’s 50th season.
Augsburg vs. Hannover 96
Hannover are the Jekyll and Hyde team of the Bundesliga: the 96ers have the third best home record in the league, but away from the AWD-Arena, they are rock bottom of the table. Hannover have managed just 7 points on the road the whole season, a weakness which leaves them squarely midtable despite their penchant for goals.
Augsburg on the other hand are proving to be something of a revelation in away matches, having recently downed both Bremen and HSV at their respective stadiums. 16th placed Augsburg are currently the third best team of the Rückrunde, with 4 wins and 3 draws to their name since the winter break. The team that managed only 9 points from the season’s first half already have 15 from the second, and are out for more this week against Hannover.
Hannover do have some good news to celebrate this week: after being sidelined for three months through injury, captain Steve Cherundolo is finally set for his comeback. it remains to be seen whether he will start on Saturday after such a long lay off, but Mirko Slomka has expressed his belief that the skipper is a player who requires little “start up time.” Hannover’s Felipe and Stindl, meanwhile, also returned to training this week though neither will be ready for action against Augsburg.
Hannover defeated Augsburg 2-0 in the fall, but with Augsburg’s resurgent form and Hannover’s atrocious away form, this may well be Augsburg’s moment for revenge.
Mainz 05 vs. Werder Bremen
The oldest starting XI in the Bundesliga are showing the youngsters what’s what. Exceeding expectations, Mainz are making a serious push for European football next season. Thomas Tuchel’s side have drawn 6 of their last 10 matches and are neck and neck with Gladbach and HSV. As they host Bremen this weekend, Mainz have an opportunity to accumulate some more points toward their goal.
Werder Bremen are a team in both long and short-term crisis. Thomas Schaaf’s most recently continued their fall from grace with 5 winless matches, their longest losing streak of the season, as well as lowest table position at 14th. With the midtable as packed as it is, however, Bremen are still incredibly only 8 points off a Europa League spot. But Schaaf would do well to look below, instead, as Bremen are only 6 points off the relegation play-off zone. Bremen desperately need to turn their season around, and time is running out.
Bayern Munich vs. Hamburger SV
Bayern Munich have had a season beyond all superlatives, and though there are many more records to be played for yet, the most important accolade — the Bundesliga title — is now within reach. Bayern could become the first team to win the league in March should they beat Hamburg on Saturday, and Dortmund drop points at Stuttgart.
Hamburg, meanwhile, have been loitering at the threshold of European qualification for most of the season now, and the race is still as tight as ever. After a frustrating loss to Augsburg in their last outing, Hamburg now have the unenviable task of taking on Bayern at the Allianz Arena. A second loss in a row would be no shame, considering their opposition, but Hamburg are nothing if not unpredictable this season. In the Rückrunde alone they have won a dramatic Nordderby, and completed the double over defending champions Dortmund. Though Bayern have the league and this match wrapped up on paper, there could still be a few twists left before the Bundesliga’s coveted salatschüssel arrives in Bavaria. Bayern would do well to stay wary.
Marcell Jansen and Max Beister are suspended for Hamburg, while Bayern have a big Champions League match coming up midweek against Juventus, and furthermore have to take into account their players who were away on international duty last week.
Wolfsburg vs. Nuremberg
Dieter Hecking faces his old team as Wolfsburg host Nuremberg on Sunday. These are two teams who have hovered just above the drop for most of the season, and both are looking to continue their current upward trends. Nuremberg, especially, have impressed since the winter break: Der Club have not lost since their trip to Dortmund on match day 19. In the Rückrunde table, Nuremberg are currently 4th.
Wolfsburg are struggling along not far behind Nuremberg in the standings. The Wolves accrued 5 points from their last 5 outings, a respectable record considering they have had to play both Bayern and Schalke. Wolfsburg have a distinct problem performing at home, however, as they have scored only 11 goals at the Volkswagen Arena all season. They will find the task no easier this weekend, against a Nuremberg who are known for defending with the entire starting 11.
Wolfsburg’s Ivan Perisic is sidelined with a knee injury, while Nuremberg will be without Timo Gebhart and Muhammed Ildiz.
Greuther Fürth vs. Eintracht Frankfurt
It would take a miracle and a half to save Fürth now, and the Clover Leaves are preparing for an ignominious return to life in the second tier, after accumulating just 15 points from their Bundesliga season so far.
Their visitors Frankfurt have also hit some poor form of late. The Eagles are winless in their last 6 games, a streak that culminated in a home loss to a struggling Stuttgart side just before the international break. Frankfurt need a win to stop the bleeding — and, hopefully, inspire Alexander Meier to his goalscoring form again. Frankfurt furthermore suffered a major blow during this international break, as goalkeeper Kevin Trapp broke a bone in his hand while shooting an advert with the German U21s last week, and will be out for the rest of the season. Veteran Oka Nikolov will take his place.
After all the ill wind of late, a test against bottom-of-the-league Fürth may be just the pick-me-up Frankfurt need to find their wings again. A win is not only expected, but needed.