The Bundesliga returns this weekend with a bang as Dortmund look to avenge a loss, Stuttgart seek to steady the ship, and Bayern are up to break another record.
Dortmund Out for Revenge in Borussia vs. Borussia
At the beginning of this season, Borussia Dortmund were seemingly invincible. Kicking off the season with a 4-0 victory over Augsburg, pummeling Hamburg 6-2, and crushing Freiburg 5-0, Jürgen Klopp’s side led the table and matched Bayern three points for three points week after week.
Then the Schwarzgelben took a trip to Borussia Park, home of Mönchengladbach, and after 90 frustrating minutes, made the short trip back to Dortmund having lost, 2-0. On Saturday, BVB have the chance to avenge that loss when they host a Gladbach that has hit a run of poor form. Lucien Favre’s team has not won in nine games, including a 3-1 loss to Hannover, a 1-1 draw with Eintracht Braunschweig, and most recently, a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Augsburg. Striker Max Kruse has not scored in nine matches, while the formerly tight defense has conceded 14 goals in that same period. As a result, the Foals have dropped from third to eighth place.
Though Dortmund are not the ideal opponents during such a run of form, Gladbach will fancy their chances. BVB have struggled against teams that have sat deep and defended well, which is exactly the approach Gladbach adopted the last time the two sides met. Favre’s team, whatever their current problems, are a well-drilled side with tight defensive lines that BVB will find difficult to break down. More good news for Gladbach is that Klopp’s men are also not on top form, eking out a 1-0 win against Freiburg last week in their dullest match this season. They will also have one eye on their return Champions League fixture against Zenit on Wednesday, and anyone who doubts BVB’s inability to juggle European competition with the domestic league should just look at their 3-0 loss against Hamburg just a few weeks ago. Should BVB display any hesitance or complacency, the Foals are more than well equipped to exploit it.
However, Marco Reus, who missed the Freiburg game due to muscular problems, should be back to face his former club, as should Robert Lewandowski, who is still recovering from an injury sustained on international duty. The return of these two stars should inject the side with a vigor and creativity that was sorely lacking against Freiburg, and they will take heart in the fact that Gladbach are much weaker while on the road, having won only two games and conceded 17 goals on their travels this season. Dortmund cannot afford to be complacent against a top side stuffed with quality, and will hope to snatch another three points to secure their hold on second.
Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller—Piszczek, Hummels, Sokratis, Schmelzer—Kehl, Sahin—Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan, Reus—Lewandowski
Borussia Mönchengladbach: Ter Stegen—Korb, Dominguez, Stranzl, Daems—Nordtveit, Xhaka—Hermann, Raffael, Arango—Kruse
Borussia Dortmund 2-1 Borussia Mönchengladbach
Stuttgart Seek First Win Under New Management
After their adventure with a young, untested coach, VfB Stuttgart have turned to the experienced hands of Huub Stevens to steer them out of relegation waters. The former Schalke trainer will be on the VfB touchline for the first time on Saturday at Bremen, as the Swabians seek their first win since before Christmas. The young team, hovering dangerously in 15th, has not won in nine games, and until last weekend against Braunschweig, was on a run of eight straight losses. They will hope that the Dutchman, who was named Schalke’s “coach of the century,” will be able to turn things around.
During his first spell at Schalke (1996-2002), Stevens operated under the belief that keeping a clean sheet was more important than scoring goals, a concept that is fundamentally contradictory to Stuttgart. VfB have conceded no less than 51 goals this season, and have let in at least two goals in the last 12 games straight. It will be interesting to see what Stevens can do for VfB’s defense, but perhaps a priority for the Dutchman is instilling a tougher mentality into these young players, who have picked up the heartbreaking habit of taking the lead before surrendering it in the last ten minutes of play. Seven of their last nine opponents have managed a goal in the dying minutes of the game, and Stevens must teach his players how to maintain a winning mentality and hold on to their hard-earned leads.
Stevens will be relieved to face Werder Bremen as his first challenge. Though sitting in 11th, Robin Dutt’s team find scoring difficult, and have the worst goal difference in the league outside of the bottom two. They have also been the victims of two severe drubbings, losing 7-0 to Bayern Munich and 5-1 to Borussia Dortmund. Despite their dire stats, however, Bremen have benefited from the instability of the clubs around them; they were in 14th only two matchdays ago, and have been on the lucky side of several 1-0 wins.
As such, the attack-minded VfB will fancy their chances, and Stevens should resist the temptation to name a conservative lineup in order to fully exploit Bremen’s defensive frailties. VfB will still be without striker Vedad Ibisevic, who is serving a five-match ban, while Bremen are without injured left-back Santiago Garcia. In his first press conference, Stevens emphasized how the entire team has to work together to avoid relegation; Bremen will be their first test.
Werder Bremen: Wolf—Ignjovski, Prödl, Lukimya, Caldirola—Bargfrede—Junuzovic, Hunt, Obraniak—Petersen, di Santo
VfB Stuttgart: Ulreich—Sakai, Schwaab, Niedermeier, Rausch—Gentner, Leitner—Harnik, Maxim, Werner—Abdellaoue
Werder Bremen 1-3 VfB Stuttgart
Bayern Look to Set Another Record Against Leverkusen
Should Bayer Leverkusen fail to stop Bayern Munich on Saturday evening, the Bavarians will have beaten all 17 of their league opponents in a row. The last time Bayern failed to win in the league was their clash against Leverkusen on Matchday 8, when Sami Hyypia’s men managed to grind out a 1-1 draw, a result they will be lucky to repeat this weekend. Interestingly, Leverkusen are also the last team to beat Munich in the league—way back on 28 October 2012, Matchday 8 of last season.
However, this clash could not have come at a worst time for the Westphalians, who are on a truly dismal run of form; they have already conceded second place back to Dortmund, and will probably lose third to the resurgent Schalke this weekend. They have embarrassed themselves in all three competitions, crashing out of the DFB-Pokal to second-division Kaiserslautern, suffering humiliation at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, and losing three and drawing one in the league. They are in no shape to challenge Bayern, who managed to hold on against Arsenal in midweek despite a lackluster performance and troubles off the pitch.
If all that isn’t bad news enough for Hyypia, midfield star Lars Bender, who missed both the Hannover and the PSG games, may still be out, while striker Jens Hegeler will miss the rest of the season. Pep Guardiola, on the other hand, has an entirely fit squad to choose from, and he will most likely rotate the squad after Tuesday’s exertions against Arsenal. Against such a formidable opponent, Hyypia will probably choose to park the bus in the Bayern box, and hope that the strategy that worked in the Hinrunde will do so again. Things have not been good for Leverkusen, and they are probably about to get worse.
Bayern Munich: Neuer—Rafinha, Martinez, Dante, Alaba—Schweinsteiger, Lahm—Kroos, Robben, Ribéry—Müller
Bayer Leverkusen: Leno—Hilbert, Spahic, Wollscheid, Boenisch—Castro, Rolfes, Can—Sam, Son—Kießling
Elsewhere in the Bundesliga…
In-form Augsburg host Schalke, who have put their Champions League and Bayern nightmares to bed after a 4-0 rout of Hoffenheim last week. Hoffenheim, in turn, will host seventh-placed Mainz, another one of this season’s surprise packages. After their 6-1 whipping by Bayern last week, Wolfsburg will look to get back to winning ways against Eintracht Braunschweig, who are only two points behind Freiburg. Hertha will hope to leapfrog Gladbach when they play Hannover, while Hamburg and Nürnberg fight it out near the bottom, and finally, beleaguered Freiburg will travel to Frankfurt.