Points to Prove
Bundesliga Match Day 26 Preview
March 16 – The title battle in the German Bundesliga seemed settled two weeks ago after Borussia Dortmund imposed a seven-point gap between them and their main contenders, Bayern Munich. A surprise draw away at FC Augsburg last Saturday turned the fight back on, as the Reds took advantage of the present awarded by their Bavarian neighbours, reducing the difference back to five points. Going into the Matchday 26 both teams have things to sort out if they want to avoid other costly mistakes.
At home monsters, away ghosts
Bayern has scored 14 goals in the last two games at home, Hoffenheim and FC Basel getting an equal share of humiliation when visiting Allianz Arena. Two powerful displays that revitalized winger Arjen Robben and his colleagues, but all that they have built can absolutely vanish if the first away win of the second half of the season won’t come now. There’s only 27 points left up for grabs in the season, so there is no time for another error on the road, especially as they take on relegation-bound Hertha Berlin and legendary coach Otto Rehhagel.
Since the 73-year-old took over the sinking team, Hertha has only three points out of three games. The only win was a 1-0 result at home in front of Werder Bremen, showing a sign of a recovery for the Old Lady. Rehhagel is a big team killer, a reputation earned over the years when he transformed small teams into champions.
On Saturday evening he has to face his former club. Sixteen years have passed since Rehhagel coached Bayern but he will never forget how he was forced out from the Bavarian club three weeks before the final of the 1996 UEFA Cup, so he might be out for a little revenge.
Bayern’s head coach Jupp Heynkces relieved some pressure off his team and himself after the two impressive wins but there is no room for complacency. In Berlin his team needs to show the same offensive appeal as they did in the last two games. Expect Bastian Schweinsteiger to return to the starting 11 after two stints off the bench.
Compared to their rivals Dortmund, the Reds have a crowded schedule. Their involvement in all three competitions may build fatigue in the squad, but with all three trophies up for grabs, the hunger for silverware should overcome this fitness problem. It’s very unlikely that we’ll see a tight game as the individual brilliance of Bayern’s players might turn this into a one-sided battle. Don’t expect success for Rehhagel’s mission to transform Hertha into a team as accurate and organised when he led Greece to the European championship in 2004.
Quick home patching or beginning of a slump?
Dortmund head man Jürgen Klopp saw no need to panic after the goalless draw at Augsburg, but for sure he wouldn’t like to build up a winless streak at this stage of the season. Dortmund needs to put that game behind them with a win at home against Werder, a team that hasn’t been impressive on the road this season.
Thomas Schaaf’s men have only gathered 13 points in 13 games away from home, losing against all the teams which were above them in the table and conceding a huge number of goals. Against Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bayern and FC Schalke, Werder conceded 14 goals and scored only one, the only good display coming against Leverkusen, but with a similar outcome, a 1-0 defeat.
Battling for a European spot this year, the Hanseatics should press harder to bring something back from this trip, even if the 4-point gap between them and Hannover gives them some room for error. But, even with such a cushion, Werder needs to deliver a good display in front of the defending league champions.
In the first meeting between the two clubs, it was the cool finishing and the luck which brought all the three points in Dormund’s account. The Black Yellows surviving almost the whole second half with 10 men to get the win and climb back in the top three of the league. It could be the 20th consecutive game without a defeat for Klopp’s men, but to achieve this club record, a better display is required. The last two home wins didn’t also came easy, Mainz and Hannover going down after tough battles.
Is there a way back?
For Schalke and Mönchengladbach, the title battle seems far away, only a perfect run bringing some hope for that objective. Before thinking on that, the two teams have to play their own battle for the third place in the table, the last one ensuring direct qualification in the Champions League group stage next season. The Royal Blues need to end their losing streak on the road when taking on 1.FC Kaiserslautern, a team which is without a win for almost 5 months.
For Mönchengladbach there are three consecutive games without a win, but their next opponent is not as bad as Kaiserslautern. Lucien Favre’s men are travelling to Leverkusen to face a team which is also hoping for a European berth, despite their defeat in the last league game. For both Schalke and Mönchengladbach it’s a moment to recover and get on track for the tough end of the season, but will they overcome their weaknesses to get back on the winning track?
Tension at the bottom
One important game this weekend at the bottom of the league table will take place Saturday in Hamburg, where Thorsten Fink’s boys welcome SC Freiburg, two teams which have performed much better in the second part of the season, three points being vital for both teams.
Here is the full list of fixtures for this weekend:
Friday 20:30 CET
1899 Hoffenheim – VfB Stuttgart
Saturday 15:30 CET
Bayern Leverkusen – Borussia Mönchengladbach
Borussia Dortmund – SV Werder Bremen
FC Augsburg – 1.FSV Mainz
1.FC Nürnberg – VfL Wolfsburg
Hamburger SV – SC Freiburg
Saturday 18:30 CET
Hertha BSC – Bayern München
1.FC Kaiserslautern – FC Schalke 04 15:30
Hannover 96 – 1. FC Cologne 17:30