Following on from the first post-World Cup international break, we have matchday 26 of an exciting Bundesliga this weekend. The title race is very much still on with the Klassiker at the Allianz Arena sure to have a massive say in the final destination of the Meisterschale. There’s the race for European places as well as a nerve-biting battle to avoid the bottom three. Here’s what the weekend has to offer…
Eintracht Frankfurt v VfL Bochum (Friday)
Having started the Rückrunde in fourth place and two points ahead of Borussia Dortmund, the optimism of January has given way to clouds of pessimism at Eintracht Frankfurt. The Adler’s form has been patchy, they were dumped out of the Champions League by Napoli and there is increasing speculation over the futures of key players and the coach. Uncertainty at board level is also adding to the woe and the danger is that the club might miss out on a top six finish if the rot sets in too badly.
They are currently sixth on 40 points but have Bayer Leverkusen, VfL Wolfsburg, and Mainz hot on their heels. The gap to the Champions League places is extending by the week, so three points at home to Bochum would go down very nicely.
Bochum for their part are slowly extracting themselves from the bottom places and their deserved win over RB Leipzig on matchday 25 has surely boosted their confidence. The Ruhr side have their survival in their own destiny but will need to keep showing the fighting spirit that has served them so well.
RB Leipzig v Mainz
Marco Rose’s Leipzig side were clearly still suffering from the shock of their Champions League thrashing at the hands of Manchester City in their loss to Bochum last time out. Die Roten Bullen are going to have to get their heads straight when Mainz come to town on Saturday as the race for the top four heats up.
As it stands Union Berlin and Freiburg hold the slightest advantage with Leipzig in fifth. Home fixtures are going to be must-wins even though the visit of Mainz will not be easy. The Nullfünfer are themselves in with an outside chance of finishing in the European places and will have gained confidence witnessing the way Bochum caused RB problems.
Union Berlin v VfB Stuttgart
Union will be looking to consolidate their place in the top four when they entertain bottom side VfB Stuttgart at der Alten Försterei on Saturday. Coach Urs Fischer’s pre-season target of Bundesliga survival has been blown out the water and although he won’t admit it, the target now has to be a top four finish and Champions League in Köpenick next season.
The Swabians have that sinking feeling at occupying the bottom spot for the first time this season will either sink them or give them a much-needed kick up the backside. The home fans showed their displeasure on matchday 25 urging the players to ‘wake up’ but relegation expert Bruno Labbadia has a real challenge on his hands to avoid the drop.
Freiburg v Hertha Berlin
Another clash of top end versus bottom end takes place at the Europa-Park Stadion with Freiburg and Hertha in need of the points for wholly differing reasons. The Breisgauer are currently hanging on to the final Champions League berth in fourth but know that the chasing Leipzig and Frankfurt will be looking to take it from them. It’s been a long season for Christian Streich’s side and they have kept pace with the leaders throughout. They have to keep going for just nine more games to achieve the unthinkable- a place at Europe’s top table next season.
Hertha need the points just to survive and retain their Bundesliga place. They are only above Schalke on goal difference and only a point ahead of bottom side VfB Stuttgart. Their away form is the worst in the Bundesliga with just four points accrued on the road so far this season. Time is running out for the Old Lady and Sandro Schwarz.
VfL Wolfsburg v Augsburg
During Wolfsburg’s poor start to the season coach Niko Kovac asked for time and vowed that the situation would improve. He has been true to his word and die Wölfe find themselves in with an outside chance of European qualification this season after turning things around.
They are unbeaten in their last four with two wins and two draws although both victories came away from home. An upturn in their form at the Volkswagen Arena will go a long way to pushing them into the top six.
Augsburg are all-but safe from getting involved in the relegation scrap but until they are mathematically safe every point will be fought for. Enrico Maaßen will be disappointed to have been held by Schalke last time out and will want to see a reaction from his side this weekend.
Schalke v Bayer Leverkusen
The Königsblauen looked dead and buried at the end of the Hinrunde, but even at this late stage of the season there is still a glimmer of survival hope in Gelsenkirchen. Since losing 6-1 to RB Leipzig on matchday 17 they haven’t been beaten and the fact that the teams around them are also performing poorly gives them a chance of getting out of the mess they find themselves in.
The international break probably came at the wrong time for Leverkusen as they would have liked the opportunity to build on their win over Bayern Munich. From beating the reigning champions, they now face one of the relegation favourites and will need to raise their game as they did before the international break.
Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund
Der Klassiker always has a special aura about it, but Saturday’s clash at the Allianz Arena promises to be even more special with Bayern and Dortmund locked in a real head-to-head title race. The result here could have a massive bearing on the destination of the Meisterschale and the prospect of ending Bayern’s 11-year dominance is withing reach for BVB.
The added spice of Thomas Tuchel taking over from Julian Nagelsmann brings more intrigue as he faces his former side. A lot will depend on the mental strength of both sides. Do Dortmund have what it takes to get a positive result at Bayern? Have the Rekordmeister been affected by the turmoil of the last week?
This weekend’s clash of the titans promises to be a Klassiker.
Köln v Borussia Mönchengladbach (Sunday)
With all eyes on Bayern versus Dortmund, the matter of the Rheinderby might go under the radar for many, but not those of a Köln or Gladbach persuasion. The Rhein-Energie Stadion witnessed an entertaining clash on Tuesday between Germany and Belgium and another cracker can be expected this weekend.
The Foals enjoyed a 5-2 win in the reverse fixture back in October but find themselves mired in mid-table obscurity. A double over their rivals would go a long way to improving their final league position.
Steffen Baumgart’s side are being mentioned now when talking about those teams involved in the relegation fight. They’ve taken just one point from their last five matches and are finding goals hard to come by. They will be hoping that form goes out the window in the derby and rely on the passion of the home crowd to see them through.
Werder Bremen v Hoffenheim (Sunday)
Hoffenheim’s horrendous run of eight defeats came to an end against Hertha Berlin last time out and that lifted them off the bottom of the table. The Sinsheim club are by no means out of the woods yet and the result against Hertha will be worth very little if they don’t follow it up with another good performance away at Werder Bremen.
The Grün-Weißen only have one win in their last six matches, but do have the in-form Niclas Füllkrug leading their attack. Hopefully he can carry on the scoring form he’s shown this week with Germany and coach Ole Werner will also hope to have some key men back after illness decimated his squad in recent games.