With the Bundesliga table being so tight 19 games in, joint-bottom Augsburg travel to eighth-placed Hoffenheim tomorrow afternoon knowing that a win at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena could put them a mere four points behind the Sinsheim side. However, taking all three points back to Bavaria is easier said than done for Jos Luhukay’s side, as they have only won once in ten Bundesliga away games this season, scoring the second least amount of goals – behind Hannover – in the process. Added to that, Hoffenheim have conceded the second-least amount of goals at home in the league this season – the impressive Tom Starke letting only six strikes evade him (unsurprisingly, Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer leads the way having let in just three Bundesliga goals at the Allianz Arena so far in the 2011/12 campaign).
Perhaps Augsburg will take some comfort from the fact that Hoffenheim have found it difficult to win at home, though. Despite their strong defensive tactics – coach Holger Stanislawski has altered his formation throughout the season, but always keeps his banks compact – Hoffenheim have only won three games at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena, scoring a paltry nine goals in the process.
None of the players in either squad nor the two head coaches are former representatives of the side they’ll be calling opponents tomorrow, although less than a week ago, new Augsburg and Hoffenheim signings Ja-Cheol Koo and Srđan Lakić respectively shared a dressing room at Wolfsburg. The latter was the marquee acquisition of the January transfer window for Hoffenheim, who allowed Gylfi Sigurðsson to join Swansea City, Chinedu Obasi to move to Schalke, and Vedad Ibišević to hook up with Stuttgart (a clearout that was presumably designed to make the club more self-sufficient). Meanwhile, joining South Korea’s Koo at the Bavarian club during the window were Bochum defender Matthias Ostrzolek, and Schalke midfielder Jan Morávek.
In the’ Bundesliga tie played between these two teams in August, Hoffenheim won 2-0 at Augsburg’s SGL Arena, with the goals for Stanislawski’s side coming from Ryan Babel and Sejad Salihović. Sascha Mölders missed a penalty that afternoon, although the former FSV Frankfurt striker had even more of an off-day last weekend against Kaiserslautern. Augsburg, who lost on the opening day of the second half of the season to Freiburg, drew 2-2 with their relegation rivals, but Mölders squandered two chances that looked easier to score than miss. He was replaced just after the hour by Stephan Hain, who, with his first touch, scored Augsburg’s equalizer.
Tobias Werner and Torsten Oehrl also missed good chances against Kaiserslautern for Augsburg, but the latter did get on the scoresheet against Hoffenheim in the DFB-Pokal tie played on December 20. However, in front of a mere 10,000 fans at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena, Bosnian duo Salihović and Ibišević scored twice to seal the home side’s progress. As it stands, Hoffenheim have never lost to Augsburg: but, they’ve only ever played one another five times, the last occasion before this season being in the 2007/08 2. Bundesliga campaign, with the sides drawing in Bavaria and Hoffenheim winning at the Dietmar-Hopp-Stadion.
Like their guests for tomorrow’s tie, Hoffenheim have also lost and drawn the two competitive games they’ve played to date in 2012, although the former came against Borussia Dortmund, and the latter versus Hannover. The day after the Dortmund game (January 29), Hoffenheim played a friendly against Ingolstadt, using a number of squad players in the XI selected. The 2. Bundesliga outfit lost 2-1 to their top-flight opponents, with Hoffenheim’s goals coming from Kenan Karaman and Tobias Strobl.
For the hosts, defenders Andreas Ibertsberger and Matthias Jaissle are not expected to be fit enough to feature on Saturday, while Isaac Vorsah is away at the African Cup of Nations (as an aside, if captain Andreas Beck picks up a tenth booking of the league season here, he’ll have to serve a two-match suspension). Augsburg, meanwhile, gave permission for Mohamed Amsif and Nando Rafael to feature at the tournament in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. The pair, normally substitutes, have actually arrived back on German soil in time for the Hoffenheim game, as Morocco and Angola respectively were knocked out at the group stage. However, they are considered by Luhukay to be little more than back-up players, so more than likely won’t make the matchday squad this weekend. The biggest losses for Augsburg will be winger Axel Bellinghausen, and newbie Morávek, both of whom are set to miss out through injury.
Speaking ahead of the game, Stanislawski, who hinted that he might hand the fit-again Boris Vukčević a start, said: “We need to win our third game against Augsburg this season in order to give us air from the teams pushing up from below. Anything but a victory here does not count.”
Hoffenheim against Augsburg kicks off at 2.30pm tomorrow afternoon, and can be watched, live, on Bet365.com. The referee will be Markus Wingenbach, who was also the man in the middle for the sides’ league game in August.