European football returned and most German sides involved this week picked up more than satisfactory results. But the focus shifts back to the domestic campaign as Slomka led Hamburg face Borussia Dortmund and struggling Bayer Leverkusen travel to Wolfsburg in this week’s potential biggies.
Yet another new face but will Hamburg’s luck change?
Hamburg witnessed their second managerial change this season as Bert van Marwijk’s struggle at the helm was brought to an end after their defeat to bottommost side Eintracht Braunschweig. Mirko Slomka was appointed few days ago with the mammoth task of saving the Red Shorts from relegation. Slomka’s time with Hannover and Schalke will indeed provide Hamburg fans with a ray of hope but the 46-year-old tactician’s job seems a whole lot harder since his faces Borussia Dortmund this week.
The injury list at Hamburg adds to Slomka’s difficulties as well. Without Rafael van der Vaart, Ivo Ilicevic and Milan Badelj, Slomka will have a hard time with stringing a side strong enough to keep Dortmund busy. The visitors have their fair share of injuries as well, with Mats Hummels, Neven Subotic and Ilkay Gündogan sidelined for this fixture. But there is some good news for Dortmund on the injury front as Marco Reus has been declared fit enough to feature on Saturday.
Dortmund’s last two league games have been most promising as their attack, including their summer arrivals, has played far more as a unit than earlier this season. Nine goals in two games, irrespective of the opposition, is no mean feat in a league of this caliber. Considering this together with Hamburg’s woeful defensive record this season, it seems hard to imagine anything but a romp in favor of the Ruhr side.
As expected, new boss Slomka thinks otherwise: “We don’t need a miracle, we need hard work.” Disciplined defending coupled with a good work rate has helped sides but a stop to Dortmund’s rampaging attack, and Slomka’s faith in his side’s ability is more than justified. The presence of the likes of Tolgay Arslan, Tomas Rincon and Heiko Westermann in midfield will aid in hindering Dortmund’s free flowing football. Discipline from the back four, a feature that has been absent thus far, is most important if Hamburg are to walk away with even a point.
A positive result is hard to foresee but the winds of change may be blowing across the Imtech Arena. Jürgen Klopp will also have their Champions League midweek fixture in mind, ensuring that his attention might be divided between the Hamburg and Zenit games. A respectable loss for Hamburg may not be the most unsafe bet to make this weekend.
Hamburg (4-3-3): Adler – Diekmeier, Tah, Djourou, Jansen – Westermann, Arslan, Rincon – Calhanoglu, Lasogga, John
Borussia Dortmund (4-2-3-1): Weidenfeller – Piszczek, Sokratis, Friedrich, Schmelzer – Sahin, Kehl – Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan, Grosskreutz – Lewandowski
Prediction: Hamburg 1-2 Borussia Dortmund
Leverkusen face Wolfsburg in a massive European fixture
Bayer Leverkusen might be sitting in second position in the table but their hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League have nosedived over the past few weeks. Die Werkself have just six points from their last six Bundesliga games and their recent thrashing at the hands of PSG in the Champions League haven’t done them any favors.
Wolfsburg have had a far better past couple of weeks with wins over Hertha Berlin and Mainz. Dieter Hecking’s worries of his side pressing the suicide button after a superb Hinrunde have now been erased and Champions League football is more than just a farfetched aspiration. This fixture will prove to be a monumental one in the Wolves’ chase for fourth and a win will propel them to just four points off Leverkusen.
Neither side has any new injuries to contend with this week but Sami Hyypia will not have the services of Emre Can due to a suspension. The Finnish coach will stick to his staple 4-3-3 with Stefan Reinartz possibly returning to the midfield while Roberto Hilbert might be given the rest and replaced by Giulio Donati.
Dieter Hecking should also use his tried and tested 4-2-3-1, hopefully giving Kevin de Bruyne more time in the attacking unit as opposed to the deeper role alongside Luis Gustavo. De Bruyne’s presence in the more advanced three man midfield will undoubtedly cause Leverkusen’s shaky defense a lot of trouble, and the support of attacking spearhead Ivica Olic could prove a little too much to handle for Hyypia’s back four.
Leverkusen might sit a little deeper, soaking the pressure that Wolfsburg have to offer and catch the hosts on the counter. Hecking’s men will know that the likes of Heung-Min Son, Sidney Sam and Stefan Kiessling don’t often ask for too many opportunities to score, and should look to kill the game as early as possible. The hosts look the more comfortable side and should dominate a Leverkusen over the ninety minutes.
VfL Wolfsburg (4-2-3-1): Benaglio – Ochs, Naldo, Knoche, Rodriguez – Medojevic, Gustavo – Perisic, de Bruyne, Arnold – Olic
Bayer Leverkusen (4-3-3): Leno – Donati, Toprak, Spahic, Guardado – Bender, Reinartz, Rolfes – Son, Kiessling, Sam
Prediction: Vfl Wolfsburg 3-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Elsewhere in the Bundesliga…
In the Friday kickoff this week, a resurgent Schalke play hosts to Mainz. Borussia Mönchengladbach play against Hoffenheim on Saturday in what should be goal fest given both sides’ affinity for the back of the net. The other fixtures on Saturday see Stuttgart face off against Hertha Berlin, Nuremberg and Eintracht Braunschweig battle it out in their bids to escape from relegation, and Augsburg make the trip west to Freiburg.
Eintracht Frankfurt put on an impressive show in the Europa League and should be looking to build on that when they face Werder Bremen on Sunday. The final game of this matchday pits Hannover and Bayern Munich in a fight that should prove to be nothing short of entertaining.