And then there were two…
Bundesliga Match Day 27 Preview
Official Bundesliga League Table
March 23 – After the two midweek Cup fixtures, we know now that the trophies of German football will be shared between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. They will play each other in the final in May and they enjoy a decent advantage over third-placed Borussia Mönchengladbach in the league standings. These two giants are going to battle until the end of the season. Going into this weekend’s Bundesliga matches, both teams are hoping for an easy three points backed by their confidence boost, but their opponents might think differently..
The semifinals of the DFB Pokal were two equally matched battles. Goals were missing, but had plenty of emotion, some taken to dangerous levels. SpVgg Greuther Fürth proved to everybody that they are ready for the first league, playing a solid game against the reigning champions, a lucky goal in the dying moments of extra-time earned Borussia Dortmund a place in the final in Berlin. It was goalles for 119 minutes, the leaders of the second league showing some great football, the Bavarians impressing with their composure and calmness.
They did pay for the confidence of their manager, however, when Mike Büskens surprised the whole world with his 117th minute sub, reserve goalkeeper Jasmin Fejzic coming on for the expected penalty shoot-out to replace the regular Max Grün. Dortmund’s Ilkay Gündogan took one last attempt of the game that hit the post but ricocheted straight into the back of Fejzic and went into the goal. Heartbreak for Fürth and their home crowd, jubiliation for Dortmund their travelling fans.
The final whistle came straight after the restart, Dortmund celebrating a return in a final of the domestic Cup since 2008. There they will meet the same opponents as last time. Bayern Munich ensured their trip to the German capital after an equally dramatic game. They were coming off three fantastic performances, but the two previous defeats this season against Gladbach were asking the Reds be very cautious about this game.
Throughout history, only one German team has managed three consecutive wins against Bayern (Eintracht Frankfurt in 1977, 2-1 in the 33rd Day of the 1976-77 season, 4-0 in the quarter-finals of the Uefa Cup first leg and 4-0 in the 16th Day of the 1977-78 season, all games at home) and Jupp Heynckes wasn’t open to equal such a negative record. 120 minutes didn’t bring any goals, despite some good chances by both sides.
So it was all left to penalties, neither coach deciding to replace their starting goalkeeper. FCB only had to score three penalties to go through, as Dante missed over the left corner and Manuel Neuer made up for his mistakes in earlier matches that cost his team with a leg save of Havard Nordtveit’s attempt. Berlin couldn’t get a better final this season, the 12th of May being a big day in German football.
With these emotions out of the way, the two clubs can focus now back on the league, where the weekend fixtures will bring some challenges. It’s a match-day with only one equally matched battle, FC Schalke 04 and Bayer Leverkusen, the rest of the games are competitive but could lean to one side or the other.
The show opens tonight with the northern derby between VfL Wolfsburg and Hamburger SV, two teams in completely opposite forms. Felix Magath’s Wolves have won two consecutive matches while Thorsten Fink’s has only one point taken in the last five games. Another defeat for Hamburg and they might find themselves at the end of the week in the relegation zone, while a win for Wolfsburg could bring them in the battle for a Europa League spot, as there is a good chance the 7th spot in the league would qualify if domestic cup winner is also in the Champions League, which is very likely for both BVB or FCB.
Bayern is back in the spotlight on Saturday, hosting Hannover 96. The guests haven’t impressed at all on the road this year, claiming only one win away in 2012, that one coming at sloppy Hertha Berlin. The Bavarian players maybe tired after such a long game on Wednesday but they have no time to complain, the motto of this game being clearly “win or die”. Heynckes has a tough mission in selecting the players which are at the top of their fitness levels, Hannover being a strong physical side with a bit more rest before this game. Robben & Co. will be out for revenge for the 2-1 defeat in the first game at AWD Arena. It will be a tough game at this tough juncture of Bayern’s season, as they also have Champions League quarterfinal fixtures upcoming against Olympique Marseille and they have to catch up to leaders Dortmund in the league.
Borussia Mönchengladbach has to quickly wipe the tears away and get back their form in the league, because Schalke is waiting for a mistake to claim the third spot. Coach Lucien Favre plays a key role before this fixture, his task being to select the players who are able to recover after the exhausting 120 minutes midweek but also to identify the stronger characters in his squad, the ones which can bounce back strong after such a bitter defeat. Hoffenheim lie in front of them, a club at their lowest, the 7-1 wound inflicted by Bayern still not being healed, Stuttgart adding to that a 2-1 win at the Rhein-Neckar Arena which lead to the firing of their general manager Ernst Tanner.
Another club in turmoil, 1.FC Kaiserlautern will go into their relegation battle with newly appointed coach Krassimir Balakov at rivals SC Freiburg. The hosts are on a high, undefeated in the last three games, winning two of them, the last one a crucial 3-1 win in Hamburg. The Bulgarian manager thinks his team can still avoid relegation, a good start needed in the MAGE SOLAR Stadium especially after this shock brought to the team with the change of the coaching staff. It can be a six-point game for both teams, clearly the highlight of the relegation battle for this week.
Two interesting games that have a lot of influence on the relegation battle include include FC Augsburg and Hertha, the teams which are on the road this weekend. Augsburg will try to extend their good form against Werder Bremen, but the Hanseatics are also searching to recover from their 1-0 defeat in Dortmund last week. For the Berliners it’s a game of now or never, another defeat for Otto Rehhagel’s team possibly creating a big gap between them and the relegation playoff spot. 1. FSV Mainz 05 are looking for a win to push themselves further away from the bottom the table, even if at the moment they are still at a safe distance.
Schalke and Leverkusen are ending the day in a Rhine Derby which will for sure show some great football. Both teams have immense quality in their squads, despite their inconsistency eliminating them from the league title race. Even so, both teams are high in the table, both close too ensuring a European berth next season. Schalke are definite favourites for this game, as their home form is solid – 10 wins in 13 matches. Robin Dutt’s men are hoping to overcome that and get a win especially for their fans which for sure are still not happy after last week’s dramatic defeat at home against Borussia Mönchengladbach. This is the main game of the league, one that might bring a goal-scoring bonanza if both teams will play their usual offensive game.
VfB Stuttgart is hoping to put some pressure the teams in front of them after the game on Sunday, still hoping to claim a European spot at the end of the season. Bruno Labbadia would like to build on the three points that they brought from their last trip and get some vital home points in the battle for Europe. FC Nürnberg could be the perfect victim, Dieter Hecking’s side losing their last two games but still far away from relegation heat. Vedad Ibisevic might be the man to watch for VfB, his brace in the last game being decisive for his team, a similar display being expected in front of a defence which has made a lot of errors this season.
Pulling the curtain on this week are leaders Borussia Dortmund, the Black-Yellows having a bit more luck with the arrangement of their game this weekend, not only getting an extra day to recover after the Cup fixture, but also knowing already before the first whistle what Bayern managed against Hannover. They won’t have an easy mission in any case, as their hosts 1.FC Köln are not in a good position to drop home points. Mario Götze still won’t make a return for Borussia, even if Jürgen Klopp declared that he will be back for the title run-in, the talented midfielder needing a bit more time to be fully fit. Dortmund needs the offensive creativity from Götze to spark their attacking problems shown in the last few games, but they will be boosted by their qualification in the Cup final.
They shouldn’t be so relaxed though as Cologne will have their best man back in the squad, Lukas Podolski coming back from suspension probably straight in the starting eleven. Stale Solbakken’s team is only three points over the playoff spot so they will have to play their best offensive game and control the midfield battle, an area where Dortmund is very strong. If they won’t manage this, they might have to run a lot after the ball because the champions are solid in possession, a game that can very frustrating for the hosts. It will be a good game to end the week, the final whistle potentially closing a match-day where equations either got complicated or simplified.
Here is the full list of fixtures for this weekend:
Friday 20:30 CET
VfL Wolfsburg – Hamburger SV
Saturday 15:30 CET
SV Werder Bremen – FC Augsburg
1. FSV Mainz 05 – Hertha Berlin
Bayern Munich – Hannover 96
SC Freiburg – 1. FC Kaiserslautern
Borussia Monchengladbach – 1899 Hoffenheim
Saturday 18:30 CET
FC Schalke 04 – Bayer Leverkusen
VfB Stuttgart – 1. FC Nürnberg 15:30
1. FC Cologne – Borussia Dortmund 17:30