Aspirations for most teams are now streamlined to the Bundesliga, and the final stretch of the 34-game marathon is just beginning. Mainz look to push for an unlikely Champions League spot, Schalke chase Dortmund with renewed intensity and the relegation battle continues to heat up.
Mainz hope to surprise Bayern with their modesty
Records have fallen at the hands of Bayern Munich at an alarming rate this season. Their dominance in Germany only seems to grow with each passing week. Every returning player reiterates the sheer depth and variety that Pep Guardiola’s side possesses. Despite the fact that they didn’t seem to bother too much about their Champions League tryst with Arsenal, Bayern eased past the Gunners and into the quarter finals for the fifth time in six years.
Their opponents this week, Mainz 05, have no such numbers and feats to boast of. But given their meager means, Karnevalsverein have been hugely impressive this season. Thomas Tuchel’s gritty bunch suffered a 4-1 defeat the last time they faced the Bavarian giants but have turned their ship back on track, going from 14th to 5th in the table.
Mainz have lost just once since the sixth of December. This remarkable run includes draws against Borussia Mönchengladbach, Schalke 04, Hertha Berlin, and a win against Bayer Leverkusen. If one had to pick a side to put a little dent in Bayern’s run at the moment, Mainz would make for a fine choice.
Guardiola continues to have an entire squad to choose from, making his job one of the most enviable on the planet. With European football not a worry in midweek for a while, the Spaniard should field a full strength eleven.
Tuchel doesn’t have any new injuries to contend with either. Bayern have looked susceptible early in recent weeks and this is something that Mainz will have to take full advantage of. The exciting trio of Nicolai Müller, Maxim Choupo-Moting and Shinji Okazaki will have to have the scoring boots on from the whistle. The criminally underrated Johannes Geis will have to continue his midfield destruction, ensuring that Bayern’s slick passing is hindered to a certain extent.
Tuchel knows that going into this tie with high hopes is suicidal and that they’re going to have to take things minute by minute. “We need to combine freedom with a lot of courage and conviction,” said Tuchel. “We want to provide them [Bayern] with a lot of work to do. If they succeed in doing it, we will congratulate them and leave with our heads held high.” This sense of reality might be exactly what the 05ers need to send Bayern back home with anything less than three points.
Mainz 05: Karius – Pospech, Bell, Noveski, Diaz – Moritz, Geis, Park – Müller – Okazaki, Choupo-Moting
Bayern Munich: Neuer – Rafinha, Martinez, Dante, Alaba – Lahm – Robben, Kroos, Thiago, Ribery – Müller
Mainz 05 1-1 Bayern Munich
The battle of the new faces – Slomka versus Stevens
Hamburger SV and VfB Stuttgart have both had managerial changes over the past month, with the latter’s happening just under two weeks ago. Mirko Slomka began life in Hamburg in scintillating style with his side clobbering Borussia Dortmund. Their next three relegation six-pointers have been a mixed bag, leaving the Red Shorts in a precarious position.
Stuttgart’s first game under Stevens, a 1-1 draw at Bremen, was far from flashy but the good news was that this was the first time since early November that they conceded only one goal in a game. Stevens’ shoring up off Stuttgart’s defense will really be tested this week, as Hamburg have been one of the more free scoring sides this season.
Hamburg’s defensive frailties have been no different. They have conceded 54 goals in the Bundesliga so far, two more than Stuttgart. But earlier statistics may not have much of an effect on this game given the changes at the helm of the two clubs.
Fortunately for Stevens, the club’s leading goalscorer, Vedad Ibisevic, return from suspension for this massive fixture. Ibisevic’s five game suspension had the club often failing on the grounds of not being able to find that one goal and his return should have Hamburg’s defenders in a bit of a tangle. Martin Harnik though is suspended after earning his fifth yellow of the season.
Hamburg have their fair share of absentees for this big fixture. Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Johan Djourou remain doubtful, while Maximilian Beister and Marcell Jansen are out for the rest of the season. On a more positive note, Rene Adler and Heiko Westermann seem to have shaken off the knocks they received against Nuremberg last weekend.
Stevens will hope to see his boys replicate their defensive performance from the previous game. Both sides look a little more solid at the back under their new coaches, making a goal fest seem unlikely. A thriller isn’t on the cards at the Mercedes-Benz Arena but it should make for an entertaining tactical battle between two astute minds.
VfB Stuttgart: Ulreich – Schwaab, Rüdiger, Niedermeier, Sakai – Boka, Gentner, Leitner – Maxim, Werner – Ibisevic
Hamburger SV: Adler – Diekmeier, Mancienne, Tah, Westermann – Badelj, Arslan – Calhanoglu, Van der Vaart, Ilicevic – Zoua
VfB Stuttgart 1-2 Hamburger SV
Elsewhere in the Bundesliga…
Werder Bremen have distanced themselves from the relegation zone with a five game unbeaten run but relegation candidates Freiburg will look to end that run when these two sides meet on Friday.
Bourssia Dortmund may have qualified for the quarter finals of the Champions League but two consecutive losses in all competitions will have them hungrier than ever for a victory when they face Hannover 96. Schalke host Eintracht Braunschweig in the David versus Goliath encounter of this week. Augsburg and Wolfsburg lock horns on Saturday, the latter knowing that a victory would give them a huge boost in the chase for European football. In another European-hopefuls duel, Borussia Mönchengladbach host Hertha Berlin.
The early kick off on Sunday pits two sides looking to escape from relegation, Nuremberg and Eintracht Frankfurt. Following last week’s 4-1 loss to Freiburg, the Eagles will believe that another loss to relegation rivals could have drastic effects on survival. The final game of the weekend sees the highly unpredictable Hoffenheim travel north to face out-of-form Bayer Leverkusen.