Matchday 4 kicked off early, as Freiburg earned a 1-1 draw against Bayern on Tuesday. But there’s plenty more action to come, including a heavyweight clash between Schalke and Leverkusen. THT previews the weekend’s Bundesliga action.
Schalke 04 vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Saturday 8/31, 18:30 kick-off (local time)
Schalke have had a shambolic season’s start. After a 3-3 draw against Hamburg on opening day, the Royal Blues succumbed to a 4-0 hammering at Wolfsburg before shooting themselves in the foot with a 2-1 loss to Hannover — and ending the match with 9 men.
They now face their toughest test yet, against Leverkusen. Schalke come into the match without Benedikt Höwedes, Christian Fuchs (suspensions), and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (injury). Meanwhile Leverkusen are on an 8-match winning streak, having downed Gladbach 4-2 last week in a match where Stefan Kiessling bagged his 100th Bundesliga goal. The momentum is firmly on the visitors’ side. Jens Keller’s position at Schalke is dangling by a thread, and after this match it might just turn into a noose.
But all is not lost. Adam Szalai lifted Schalke into the Champions League group stages mid-week, and the team will be counting on him to produce more magic this weekend. Other good news from this week include the signing of Dennis Aogo from HSV. The versatile left-back gives the squad some reassuring depth.
Schalke desperately need to turn things around. Eight points dropped in August alone is a major setback for a team with top-four ambitions. A win against Leverkusen at the moment is a tall order, but Schalke must at least put in a convincing performance — because at this point it’s as much a matter of convincing themselves as it is of convincing the world.
Schalke: Hildebrand – Uchida, Santana, Matip, Aogo – Höger, Jones – Farfan, Draxler, Clemens – Szalai
Leverkusen: Leno – Spahic, Boenisch, Toprak, Donati – Sam, Bender, Reinartz – Castro, Son, Kiessling
Schalke 1-2 Leverkusen
VfB Stuttgart vs. Hoffenheim
Sunday 9/01, 15:30 kick-off (local time)
Bruno Labbadia wins the 2013/14 Bundesliga manager sack race. After three miserable matchdays, Stuttgart finally said enough and appointed Thomas Schneider as new head coach this week. It’s not an easy job that the ex-defender inherits. Schneider’s first match in charge ended in injury-time heartbreak, as Stuttgart conceded a second home goal to lose 4-3 on aggregate to HNK Rijeka in the Europa League qualifiers.
The good news is that Stuttgart look ready to move beyond the plodding mediocrity of Labbadia’s latter days. Defense remains an eternal mystery to the Swabians, but the team is certainly not lacking in firepower. Thursday’s match against Rijeka saw Stuttgart dictating play for most of the game, though they were ultimately punished for some lackluster finishing.
On Sunday, Stuttgart host regional rivals Hoffenheim. In 11 Bundesliga meetings, Stuttgart had lost to Hoffenheim only one — in this same fixture, last season, when they suffered a 3-0 defeat. And history may repeat itself now. Gone are the disjointed relegation-battlers of yesteryear. Markus Gisdol’s side are looking more like their 2008 Herbstmeister selves, and Anthony Modeste and Roberto Firmino are the leading men in this season’s Hoffenheim revival. Not since Vedad Ibisevic have Hoffenheim had such a quality forward to spearhead their attack. Now talismans old and new come face to face, as Hoffenheim pay a visit to Ibisevic’s new stomping grounds at the Mercedes-Benz Arena.
Both sides have one suspension each after the bloodbath of matchday 3. Stuttgart are without Ibrahima Traore, while Hoffenheim will miss Sejad Salihovic. Furthermore, Stuttgart captain Serder Tasci and fellow defender Georg Niedermeier are still sidelined.
Neither side has managed to keep a clean sheet so far this season; don’t expect them to start now. Gisdol’s Hoffenheim have shown that they are out for goals, and Schneider’s philosophy looks to be similar. It might not be the most elegant match, but the stage is well-set for an entertaining afternoon.
Stuttgart: Ulreich – Sakai, Schwaab, Rüdiger, Boka – Kvist, Gentner – Harnik, Cacau, Werner – Ibisevic
Hoffenheim: Casteels – Beck, Abraham, Vestergaard, Johnson – Polanski, Strobl – Volland, Firmino, Elyounoussi – Modeste
Stuttgart 2-2 Hoffenheim
Elsewhere in the Bundesliga
Borussia Mönchengladbach welcome Werder Bremen in a tantalizing match on Saturday morning. Gladbach have had a tough season’s start with two away matches against Bayern and Leverkusen. Against a still-improving Werder Bremen, the Foals have a good opportunity to pick up 3 points.
Hannover continue apace with their jekyll-and-hyde home versus away form. This week they play on home turf, and H96 will be eager to deal Mainz 05 their first defeat of the season. Elsewhere in Lower Saxony, Wolfsburg play hosts to an overachieving Hertha Berlin, while fellow regional rivals Eintracht Braunschweig visit Hamburger SV.
Survival specialists Nuremberg and Augsburg also face off on Saturday, in what looks to be a dire but determined match. And Borussia Dortmund wrap up the weekend with a visit to Eintracht Frankfurt, and a chance to extend their perfect record.