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

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Hoffenheim 1-3 Wolfsburg

LORENZ Günther-Köstner’s temporary spell as Wolfsburg coach continues to get better and better, as his side registered their fourth win from the five games they’ve had under the 60-year-old’s control. Crucially, the result also lifted Wolfsburg out of the relegation zone and above Hoffenheim, who paid the price for their woeful first-half performance (and an improved, if not much better, second-half showing). Markus Babbel’s side, coming into this game with their spirits buoyed after learning on Friday that popular, talented midfielder Boris Vukčević – involved in a nasty car crash in September – had finally woken up from his coma, just never got going, and played like a side who have only won one of their last seven games.

But, credit where it’s due to Wolfsburg, who deserved all three points this afternoon. Defensively, they were mentally, tactically and physically solid, and in attack, were enterprising, creative, fluid and confident. If Günther-Köstner’s side can win against Werder Bremen at the Volkswagen Arena next weekend, it’s hard to see how the former Hoffenheim coach won’t be given the Wolfsburg job on a permanent basis. Today’s hosts, meanwhile, booed regularly by the home fans, welcome Bayer Leverkusen – coached by Sami Hyypiä, Babbel’s former Liverpool teammate – to the Rhein-Neckar-Arena. It’s hard to see how Babbel, once a coach of such promise, will be able to hold onto his job if his players fail to pick up even a point from that encounter.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Hoffenheim (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Tim Wiese; Andreas Beck, Pelle Jensen, Matthieu Delpierre, Fabian Johnson; Sebastian Rudy, Daniel Williams; Roberto Firmino, Sejad Salihović, Kevin Volland; Joselu

Wolfsburg (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Diego Benaglio; Fagner, Naldo, Simon Kjær, Marcel Schäfer; Josué, Jan Polák; Makoto Hasebe, Diego, Ivica Olić; Bas Dost 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 2-1 Werder Bremen

Schalke fought back after a lacklustre first half performance to beat Werder Bremen 2-1 and keep pace with 1. Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich. An Aaron Hunt-inspired Bremen deserved the 1-0 lead they took into the break after executing an effective gameplan and capitalising on some lethargic play by the home side (with Hunt himself putting the ball in the net). But after being allowed to equalize a little too easily shortly after the hour mark (Roman Neustädter’s headed goal was pretty defendable, and came at a time when Bremen were still exerting a degree of control), Schalke took charge, with 18-year-old substitute Julian Draxler showing great composure – amid erratic defending by the visitors – to score the winner with just under 20 minutes to play.

Thomas Schaaf will feel his side didn’t get what they deserved after one of their best performances on the road this season, yet Bremen only have themselves to blame. Huub Stevens, meanwhile, will be relieved his side came away with all three points from this game, as during the first 45 minutes, Schalke looked tired after their heroic efforts against English Premier League side Arsenal in the Champions League on Wednesday. Although Schalke remain seven points behind Bayern Munich, who also won this afternoon, beating Eintracht Frankfurt 2-0 at the Allianz Arena, Stevens’ side remain four points clear of fierce rivals Borussia Dortmund (who won 3-1 at Augsburg), and three ahead of third-placed Frankfurt, with a much better goal difference. So, in a nutshell, a forgettable match but an important result – one that could be the difference between tears of joy and jubilation come the conclusion of matchday 34 for both these sides.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Schalke (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Lars Unnerstall; Benedikt Höwedes, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Joël Matip, Christian Fuchs; Jermaine Jones, Neustädter; Jefferson Farfán, Lewis Holtby, Ibrahim Afellay; Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

Werder Bremen (4-1-4-1, from right to left): Sebastian Mielitz; Theodor Gebre Selassie, Assani Lukimya-Mulongoti, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Lukas Schmitz; Zlatko Junuzović; Marko Arnautović, Hunt, Kevin De Bruyne, Eljero Elia; Nils Petersen 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 0-2 Borussia Dortmund

Borussia Dortmund kept their hopes of retaining the 1. Bundesliga title alive with a win in tremendously difficult conditions at Freiburg. A snow downpour for the duration of the game – plus a good coating that had fallen before proceedings began settling strongly – made the match a bit of a farce, but BVB coach Jürgen Klopp won’t mind, as his team are now nine points behind league-leaders Bayern Munich (who have a game in hand at home to Bayer Leverkusen tomorrow).

All afternoon, the weather conditions played havoc for defenders and attackers alike in gauging where the ball was going to land at any given point, if it moved at all. But, Freiburg and Dortmund both had spells where they adapted, putting their opponents under pressure, and it was the hosts who had the much stronger first-half, with anaemic Dortmund barely troubling home goalkeeper Oliver Baumann. However, after the break, the visitors – playing three days after a famous win in the Champions League against Real Madrid – looked slick and strong, and took the lead in the 53rd minute when Neven Subotić headed in a Marco Reus free-kick.

Seven minutes from time, Mario Götze sealed the three points against a Freiburg side who didn’t create enough chances in the second-half, and failed to convert those they did during the first 45 minutes. Despite today’s home defeat, something Freiburg don’t experience very often, coach Christian Streich will still be satisfied with the start his side have made to the 2012/13 season – 11 points from their opening nine games. They go to Borussia Mönchengladbach next weekend, while Dortmund host Stuttgart.

Match preview here.

Starting formations

Freiburg (4-4-1-1, from right to left): Baumann; Jonathan Schmid, Matthias Ginter, Diagné Fallou, Mensur Mujdža; Karim Guédé, Cédric Makiadi, Julian Schuster, Daniel Caligiuri; Max Kruse; Erik Jendrišek

Borussia Dortmund (4-2-3-1, from right to left): Roman Weidenfeller; Łukasz Piszczek, Subotić, Mats Hummels, Marcel Schmelzer; İlkay Gündoğan, Sebastian Kehl; Reus, Götze, Kevin Großkreutz; Robert Lewandowski 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