With an exciting Champions League first knockout round behind us and the season entering the business end, it is time to return to domestic action and all the excitement that the Bundesliga provides week in and week out. Here is TheHardTackle’s weekly Bundesliga preview.
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Bayern Munich
Twenty points ahead of the chasing pack and potentially three games away from winning the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich’s domestic campaign is more or less complete. Jupp Heynckes can now afford the luxury of resting his players in view of DFB Pokal and Champions League football. With this being the current state of affairs at the club, this game seems pretty pointless. But in all honesty, it isn’t.
Bayer Leverkusen are the only club to have recorded a victory over the Bavarian giants this season and currently sit in third place, only six clear of a hungry group of Champions League hopefuls. So a positive result against Bayern would do a world of good to the Leverkusen camp, both in terms of confidence and points.
Both sides seem relatively injury free, with Omer Toprak (Leverkusen) and Holger Badstuber (Bayern) being the only absentees for the game. Leverkusen will line up in their regular 4-3-3 formation but their choice at center back alongside Philipp Wollscheid should be interesting. Daniel Schwaab has put in two back to back solid defensive performances now and should be first choice but the experience of Stefan Reinartz will also be a factor.
Their choice at center back will in turn decide their midfield trio, with Lars Bender and Simon Rolfes surely meriting starting spots. If Reinartz does play in defense, Jens Hegeler should complete their midfield. If not, Reinartz himself will play as their third midfielder. Leverkusen should return to their usual attacking unit of André Schürrle, Gonzalo Castro and Stefan Kießling.
Just on the back of a Champions League tie, Heynckes will probably decide to rest a few of his players over the weekend. He is expected to field the staple 4-2-3-1 and we might see Claudio Pizarro given another start up front. The Peruvian has had a poor return to Bavaria but given his ability and experience, could well destroy Leverkusen’s defense.
The likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Luis Gustavo and Daniel van Buyten should receive places in the starting XI this weekend. Bayern will not be half as hungry as they’ve been up until now but these hopeful starters could put in top quality performances with the hope of pushing for a regular spot.
Bayern will struggle once again but if Leverkusen’s recent form is anything to go by, the visitors should leave with three points in the bag.
Borussia Dortmund vs. Freiburg
The title race may be over but Dortmund cannot afford too many more slip ups if they are to save face this season. Third place seems unacceptable for this incredibly talented side and after having suffered their second straight Ruhr derby defeat last week, they will be looking to get back on the winning track.
Their opponents for this week will also be reeling from the after effects of a demoralizing result last weekend. Up until their previous game, Freiburg conceded goals at less than a goal a game and were almost impenetrable at home. Yet, to the surprise of every Bundesliga fan, the boys from the Black Forest were humbled by a 2-5 home loss to a struggling Wolfsburg side. Not only was this a dent in their morale but also a massive setback in their push for Champions League football.
With so much at stake this week, Jürgen Klopp should field a full strength eleven barring the injured Mats Hummels. Freiburg have been a tough cookie to break all season and there is no doubt that the full force of Dortmund’s attacking quartet will be necessary in crumbling the visitors to pieces. With Freiburg being comparatively weak on their right side, Marco Reus will look to play a slightly wider role while Marcel Schmelzer should be encouraged to thunder forward from deep.
Freiburg have no injury worries of their own and will come all guns blazing with their 4-2-3-1 formation. The duo of Johannes Flum and Julian Schuster in the center of midfield will be key to their success, especially with the abovementioned players’ ability to aid their defense. The lack of a out and out striker could prove useful in dragging Dortmund’s defenders out of position but might also prove disastrous if Freiburg aren’t clinical enough.
Not too often do you see Dortmund go winless in consecutive games and the last time that happened was back in early December. A repeat of that seems highly likely given the work ethic and heart of this Freiburg side and the brilliance of their manager, Christian Streich. A goal apiece and the spoils shared.
A resurgent Schalke side travel to Nuremberg on Saturday, looking to cement their spot in next year’s Champions League. A lot will depend on Julian Draxler and Michel Bastos for the Royal Blues, while Hiroshi Kiyotake will be the pivotal figure in Nuremberg’s side.
Injury plagued Hannover travel west to face Borussia Mönchengladbach. Knowing that Hannover’s away form has been woeful, Gladbach will fancy themselves in this fixture and hope that the three points keeps them right at the heart of the battle for European football.
Mainz have been unbeaten in their last five games but points haven’t come as freely as they would have liked. Travelling to face an unpredictable Hoffenheim side is going to be a handful for Thomas Tuchel’s men but the likes of Adam Szalai and Andreas Ivanschitz should be enough to sneak a narrow victory. Relegation seems inescapable for the village club now.