This was a thrilling week of Champions League quarterfinal action, but fear not! Matchday 30 in the Bundesliga is here to save you from missing it too much, as Bayern Munich host Borussia Dortmund in a clash of the titans, while the relegation fight gets even more interesting.
A Clash of Titans: Bayern Host Dortmund
This game really doesn’t change anything, but it still feels like one of the biggest contests of the season. On Saturday evening, the men in black and yellow will march out onto the Allianz Arena pitch to show Bayern Munich that they are more than just second fiddle. Both sides will probably be exhausted from their midweek exertions in the Champions League, but this is still the match that all of Germany—and perhaps all of Europe—will be watching.
This is much more than first against second, or even a replay of last year’s Champions League final. This is personal. First, there was the heartbreaking transfer of Dortmund’s golden boy, Mario Götze, to Bayern last year. Then, Dortmund spent last summer refusing to allow Robert Lewandowski to do the same. He will, of course, be leaving at the end of this one for Bavaria, and this will perhaps be the last time the Polish star dons the yellow shirt against the red one, instead of the other way around. That is unless these two teams meet again on May 17 in the German Cup final, a mouthwatering possibility that gives this clash an added edge.
As if all that weren’t enough, the coaching staff and administration from both clubs have been squabbling like children all year. After Bayern Sporting Director Matthias Sammer questioned the mentality and dedication of Bayern’s rivals in March, Klopp hit back by wondering what Sammer even does for Munich. This week, Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke and interim Bayern president, Karl Hopfner have decided it’s their turn to bicker in the media. On Thursday, Uli Hoeness’ replacement accused Watzke of lying about a loan Bayern gave BVB in 2004, when Dortmund were threatened by bankruptcy, and Hopfner even went so far as to compare Watzke to Baron von Münchhausen, the fictional character known for his tall tales.
But all the arguing will fade away once the players step out onto the pitch in what is sure to be a footballing feast. Though Augsburg have gone down in history as the team that snapped Bayern’s invincible run last week, Dortmund will look to inflict a second—and more symbolic—defeat on the champions. Jürgen Klopp’s men have endured a difficult season—that point has been well-documented—but they showed on Tuesday night against Real Madrid that they can still hold their own—and even defeat—the best in Europe in style.
After being rested against Madrid, defensive stalwart Sokratis should be back in the side, as should midfielder Nuri Sahin, who is officially a permanent Dortmund player once more after his return from Real Madrid was finalized this week. Despite the excellence of debutant Milos Jojic in the Champions League, Klopp will probably revert back to captain Sebastian Kehl, who sat out the European match with a ban. Bayern captain Philipp Lahm will have his work cut out for him against speedy star Marco Reus, who is in red-hot form at the moment. The Dortmund boy has scored six of BVB’s last seven goals and put in a magical performance against Madrid on Tuesday.
Midfield veteran Bastian Schweinsteiger should be back in the team for Bayern, while Javi Martinez is also available for selection. Mario Götze, who scored the first goal against his former club in the reverse fixture, may also start. After that 3-0 defeat in November, Klopp begrudgingly praised Pep Guardiola’s tactics: “First, they got at us with long balls, then they bring on the 1.70m boys—not a bad idea.” It will be interesting to see if Guardiola adopts the same approach this time around.
Bayern Munich: Neuer—Lahm, Boateng, Dante, Alaba—Schweinsteiger, Kroos—Ribéry, Götze, Robben—Mandzukic
Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller—Piszczek, Hummels, Sokratis, Durm—Kehl, Sahin—Großkreutz, Mkhitaryan, Reus—Lewandowski
Bayern Munich 1-2 Borussia Dortmund
Two Six-Pointers Showcase the Chaos of the Relegation Fight
Bayern and Dortmund might take all the headlines this weekend, but the bottom of the Bundesliga table is the most popular party in town—except that no one wants to be there. Only four points separate 13th-placed Hannover 96 from bottom club Eintracht Braunschweig, and with five matches left it is impossible to call which teams will be saying goodbye to the Bundesliga come Matchday 34. While every game is now of consummate importance for all of these teams, it is the six-pointers that will be crucial, like this weekend’s Hannover against Hamburg, and Freiburg vs. Braunschweig.
As it stands, Hannover sit nervously at the top of the relegation pack, with 29 points and a precious one-goal advantage in goal difference over Freiburg. Hamburg, the dinosaur of the Bundesliga, are only two points behind in 16th place. The good news for Hannover is that they are at home, where they have lost only four matches this season, while Hamburg are dreadful on their travels, having managed only two wins all season. More bad news for trainer Mirko Slomka, who is out to prove a point against the club that sacked him in December, is that club top scorer Pierre-Michel Lasogga will be out for another two weeks. With 12 goals, the young German striker has been responsible for more than a quarter of Hamburg’s tally this season, but will not be able to help his club as they fight for survival.
Hannover will be without young center-back Andre Hoffmann after his red card against Braunschweig last week earned him a five-match ban that effectively ended his season. Tayfun Korkut will have to do some tinkering to plug this hole in his defense against a Hamburg side that can be deadly in attack. Despite their strong home form, Hannover are in the midst of a four-match losing streak, and will be eager to put their painful 3-0 derby defeat last weekend behind them.
The other six-pointer of Matchday 30 pits the winner of that Lower-Saxon derby, Braunschweig, against Black Forest team SC Freiburg. Having anchored the Bundesliga all season and suffered the ignominy of being labeled the “piss team” by their own coach early in the season, Braunschweig are the sensation of the league at the moment, having lost only once in their last seven. While in the Hinrunde they managed to lose 12 times and concede 32 goals, they have whittled that number down to just four defeats and 18 conceded in the Rückrunde, and club top scorer Domi Kumbela even scored one of the goals of the season against Mainz.
That being said, Freiburg have also resurrected themselves in the Rückrunde. Having secured only 14 points in the entire first half of the season, they already have 15 so far in the second. However, trainer Christian Streich might be facing a serious personnel problem in attack; top striker Admir Mehmedi and his sometimes-substitute Phillipp Zulechner have both been laid low by colds, while Sebastian Freis and Mike Hanke are nursing longer-term injuries, leaving only Karim Guedé as the totally fit option. Still, Braunschweig have won only once all season away from home, and Streich knows that a victory here would put his side seven points above their opponents and one giant step closer to safety.
For Freiburg and Braunschweig, as for Hannover and Hamburg, everything is at stake. At worst, Freiburg could find themselves in 17th on Monday morning, while at best, Braunschweig could vault to 15th. Hannover could also finish the match day in 17th, and Hamburg could leap to 13th. These teams all know they can beat each other, and that draws would not help any of them in the long run. With everything to play for, all four should give it their all and make for heated, entertaining fixtures for both their fans and for neutrals.
Hannover 96: Zieler—Rajtoral, Felipe, Marcelo, Schulz—Bittencourt, Stindl, Andreasen, Hustzi—Ya Konan, Rudnevs
Hamburg: Adler—Diekmeier, Mancienne, Djourou, Westermann—Calhanoglu, Badelj, Arslan, Jiracek—Van der Vaart—Zoua
Hannover 96 2-1 Hamburg
SC Freiburg: Baumann—Sorg, Ginter, Höhn, Günter—Klaus, Darida, Fernandes, Schmid—Guedé, Mehmedi
Eintracht Braunschweig: Davari—Kessel, Correia, Bicakcic, Reichel—Elabdellao, Boland, Vrancic, Hochscheidt—Nielsen, Kumbela
SC Freiburg 3-2 Eintracht Braunschweig
Elsewhere in the Bundesliga…
Schalke and Frankfurt kick off the Bundesliga action with their Friday evening match, in which third-placed Schalke look to maintain pressure on Borussia Dortmund. On Saturday, a reinvigorated VfB Stuttgart take their quest to stay up to Mönchengladbach, where they face a Borussia team that boasts the second-best home record in the league. VfL Wolfsburg host struggling Nürnberg, who hope star striker Josep Drmic can shoot them to safety. Thomas Tuchel’s overachieving Mainz should make easy work of goal-shy Werder Bremen, and Bayer Leverkusen will try to get life without Sami Hyypia off to a winning start against Hertha Berlin. Last but not least, eighth-placed Augsburg take on ninth-placed Hoffenheim in what should be an entertaining mid-table clash.