Bayer Leverkusen-Hamburg preview

IT’S second against seventh this weekend in 1. Bundesliga, as two teams who’ve enjoyed winter campaigns to be proud of square off in the last round of league matches before the winter break. Although Bayer Leverkusen’s hopes of winning the title probably disintegrated with last weekend’s 3-2 loss at Hannover, both they and Hamburg have a very good chance this season of making the 2012/13 Champions League given the erratic form of every team in Germany’s top-flight bar Bayern Munich.

All eyes will be on the away side’s goalkeeper René Adler this weekend, who has been one of the top-performing players in the first half of the 2012/13 1. Bundesliga season. He left Bayer Leverkusen over the summer to join Hamburg, and will be keen to show his former employers just what they’re missing at the BayArena. Adler will have a tough time keeping in-form Leverkusen striker Stefan Kieβling at bay, though – the 28-year-old has been in outstanding form this season, with ten goals and some fantastic line-leading performances to his name. Continue reading

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Stuttgart-Schalke preview

TOMORROW afternoon, inconsistent Stuttgart host a Schalke side who have seen their title challenge disintegrate in the last few weeks. Both sides come into this game on a high, though, with Schalke securing top-spot in their Champions League group on Tuesday, and Stuttgart making it six 1. Bundesliga teams out of six to reach the next round of Europe’s continental cup competitions, albeit after losing at home last night. Continue reading

Mainz-Hannover preview

TWO 1. Bundesliga sides battling to qualify for next season’s Europa League go head-to-head on Saturday afternoon as sixth-placed Hannover visit seventh-placed Mainz. While Mirko Slomka’s side have had no trouble scoring goals this season (their tally of 27 makes them the joint-third most lethal top-tier side), Mainz have been more profligate, relying mainly on the goal-scoring prowess of Hungarian hotshot Ádám Szalai (who, admittedly, only has one goal in the six games he has played since bagging a hat-trick against the team with the division’s worst defence, Hoffenheim). Nevertheless, Thomas Tuchel’s energetic and resourceful Mainz team have a good home record so far this season, and in their last away game, Hannover were hammered 5-0 at Bayern Munich. Continue reading

Bayern Munich-Hannover preview

JUST over 40 hours after finishing a Europa League match against Dutch side FC Twente, Hannover will begin their 13th match of the 2012/2013 1. Bundesliga season at runaway leaders Bayern Munich. Admittedly, Mirko Slomka’s side were already assured of their progress to the next round of Europe’s secondary competition before Tonight’s match, but at least nine players likely to be involved at the Allianz Arena – a six-and-a-half-hour drive from Hannover – featured in the 0-0 draw with Steve McClaren’s Eredivisie outfit. Bayern, on the other hand, had their midweek European game done and dusted by Tuesday evening, as their 1-1 draw with Valencia in Spain proved enough to secure both sides’ passage to the next round of the Champions League.

The Bavarian giants come into this game eight points clear at the top of the table, with a 1. Bundesliga record of ten wins, one draw – which came last weekend in a physical state derby at Nuremberg – and a single loss, with 33 goals scored, and a mere five conceded. One aberration at the hands of Bayer Leverkusen aside, the runners-up in last season’s Champions League have won every match they’ve played at home in the league, cup and Europe so far this season. Hannover, on the other hand, come into this game with an average domestic away record. Slomka’s side have won two and lost three of the 1. Bundesliga games they’ve played on the road in the 2012/13 campaign; one of the latter results being a noteworthy 4-2 win at Stuttgart a few weeks back, where Hannover came back from 2-0 down to win 4-2. Continue reading

Hoffenheim-Wolfsburg preview

TWO 1. Bundesliga clubs who have been making headlines for positive reasons this week come face to face tomorrow afternoon. On Friday, Hoffenheim attacker Boris Vukčević awoke from the coma he had been in since a car crash on September 28, giving the club and its squad a timely boost. Wolfsburg, meanwhile, travel to the Rhein-Neckar-Arena buoyed by last weekend’s Diego-inspired win over Bayer Leverkusen, and the news that sporting director Klaus Allofs has left northern rivals Werder Bremen after 13 years to join Germany’s 2009 champions.

Wolfsburg have been in fantastic form in recent weeks, winning three of the last four matches. That run, unsurprisingly, has coincided with the aftermath of coach/manager Felix Magath’s departure, with the players verbally expressing and physically playing like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders. The popular Lorenz Günther-Köstner – who was head coach at Hoffenheim in the third-tier for several months in 2006 – is now in temporary charge, and most fans seem to want the 60-year-old to stay on. What Allofs has in mind, though, remains to be seen. Continue reading

Schalke-Werder Bremen preview

Schalke will be looking to bounce back from the disappointment of losing to lowly Hoffenheim last weekend as poor-on-the-road Werder Bremen visit the Veltins-Arena. Last Saturday’s 3-2 loss at the Rhein-Neckar Arena was actually Schalke’s first defeat in all competitions on the road this season, with Hoffe denying second-placed Schalke the chance to stay within four points of league leaders Bayern Munich (who beat Hamburg 3-0 to make the gap seven points). Bayern Munich are the only other side to have beaten Schalke this season, with Schalke otherwise proving to be imperious at home so far this campaign (a run they maintained by fighting back to draw 2-2 with Arsenal in the Champions League during the week).

On paper, Bremen should pose no problems on Saturday afternoon, as Thomas Schaaf’s side have lost to Münster (cup), Borussia Dortmund, Hannover, and Augsburg away from home this season, and were also held at struggling minnows Fürth a fortnight back. However, at home, the story is a little different, with Sunday’s 2-1 home win over Mainz helping Bremen move up to seventh place in the 1. Bundesliga table (six points behind their hosts this weekend). Continue reading

Freiburg-Borussia Dortmund preview

They may have beaten Real Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday night, but Borussia Dortmund travel to a Freiburg side who sit just one point behind them in the table this weekend. Jürgen Klopp’s reigning 1. Bundesliga champions currently trail league-leading Bavarian giants Bayern Munich by 12 points after just eight games, with inconsistent away form being Dortmund’s major problem.

However, last weekend’s home loss in the Revierderby against Schalke emphasised just what a difficult period Dortmund are currently enduring domestically, with Klopp’s decision to play a three-man defence in that game backfiring. The return to his usual 4-2-3-1 in the 2-1 victory over Real Madrid means that such an experiment is extremely unlikely to be risked again tomorrow.

Freiburg, meanwhile, are floating along nicely, although given the limited resources at coach Christian Streich’s disposal, he’ll be thinking the sooner his side can reach the 35-point mark, the better. After last weekend’s 2-0 win over woeful Wolfsburg, Freiburg only need another 24 points from the 26 matchdays left to play to achieve that target, and who would bet against them at this stage to earn a fifth successive season in 1. Bundesliga? Continue reading