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Bundesliga Weekend Preview: Round 5

Saturday, September 12 (all times local) 

15:30 Wolfsburg – Bayer Leverkusen

15:30 Mainz – Hertha Berlin

15:30 Hoffenheim – Bochum

15:30 Freiburg – Eintracht Frankfurt

15:30 Dortmund – Bayern Munich

15:30 Nuernberg – Moenchengladbach

18:30 Hamburg - Stuttgart 

Sunday, September 13

15:30 Werder Bremen - Hannover

17:30 Koeln - Schalke 

Wolfsburg – Bayer Leverkusen 

Having lost their last two matches to Hamburg (4-2) and Bayern (3-0), Wolfsburg will be keen to return to winning ways on Saturday. Before the Hamburg loss, the Wolves had been undefeated at home for well over a year. Without midfield anchor Josue and against joint league leaders Leverkusen, the task will be difficult. Bayer Leverkusen have been reborn under coach Juup Heynckes. The 2002 Champions League runners-up had in recent years slumped despite having a young and promising set of talent, but have started this year in remarkable form.  Die Werkself will have a mountain to climb if they are to beat Wolfsburg at the Volkswagen Arena, but Heynckes’ men will be encouraged by Hamburg’s recent success there. 

Mainz – Hertha Berlin

Newly promoted Mainz stunned Germany with their 2-1 victory over Bayern in round 3, and have been strong in draws against Leverkusen and Hannover. Having earned favorable results against two of Germany’s toughest opponents, Mainz look like good candidates to avoid the drop. Hertha played remarkably well for the first three quarters of last year before dropping from first to a fourth place finish. However, things aren’t looking quite as rosy this year for die Alte Dame, who lost loanee Andriy Voronin and currently sit in the relegation zone. Since their most recent loss to Werder Bremen, Hertha have signed midfielders Cesar and Florian Kringe, as well as prolific Cali striker Adrian Ramos, and look to be in much better shape for the rest of the season. 

Hoffenheim – Bochum  

Last year’s Bundesliga winter champions went winless for 12 matches in the second half of last season, leaving Hoffenheim in 7th place. Despite having a fit-again Vedad Ibisevic and new signing Maicosuel, Hoffe have managed just two goals. On the plus side, Hoffenheim’s defense has improved by leaps and bounds. A win against Bochum could propel Hoffe back into the top tier of the Bundesliga. Perennial scrappers Bochum avoided the drop again last season, and in all likelihood will do the same this year. Perhaps the Bundesliga’s least forgiving team, Bochum will punish any underperforming opponents with tooth-and-nail defending, and a ruthlessly efficient offense. A win on Saturday would put Bochum mid-table and well on pace to avoid relegation. 

Freiburg – Eintracht Frankfurt 

Last year, for the third time in their history, Freiburg won the 2. Bundesliga title. Since rejoining the German top flight, it has been a bumpy road with mixed results. A draw in their opener against Hamburg was encouraging, but 4-2 and 5-0 losses to Stuttgart and Bayer Leverkusen, respectively, indicate that the club is in need of some more stability. Robin Dutt’s side will look to build on their recent 1-0 victory over Schalke. Frankfurt, one of the DFB’s two founding members, may have a tradition as old as German football itself, but since the early 1990’s, have had a long string of disappointing results.With 2008 as an exception, Frankfurt have finished 13th or worse for 14 years. This season, die Adler are in the upper half of the table, but have been held to draws by the likes of Nuernberg and Koeln, and will need to improve if they are to have a successful season. A win at Freiburg would be a step in the right direction. 

Dortmund – Bayern Munich 

After several years in the shadows, Dortmund have begun to show promise once again. The 1997 Champions League winners have assembled a squad of young, talented players, and have arguably the best youth academy in Germany. Defensively, Dortmund were fantastic last year, but have gotten off to a rough start thus far, conceding six goals. Neven Subotic and Felipe Santana will have their hands full against Bayern’s prolific array of attacking options. Following a near-record spending spree, Bayern started the 2009-10 campaign in abysmal form. After losing to Mainz, and facing a pivotal match against Wolfsburg, Uli Hoeness orchestrated the signing of Arjen Robben, which instantly changed everything. The day after his transfer was announced, Robben played 45 minutes, scoring twice in a 3-0 defeat of the defending champions. At long last, Bayern are looking threatening, but will need full focus as they face a very difficult task in Dortmund. 

Nuernberg – Moenchengladbach 

Nuernberg had to claw their way out of the 2. Bundesliga, following a third place finish. The Bavarian side beat Energie Cottbus in a playoff match, but thus far look likely to go the way of their Brandenburg counterparts and back to the second division. With just two points from four matches, Nuernberg have it all to do if they are to remain in Germany’s top flight. Following the departures of Marko Marin and Alexander Baumjohann, it appeared that Moenchengladbach were in serious trouble. Yet, after four matches, die Fohlen are in fifth place and playing very well. With a goal difference of 0, however, it is important that the Prussians tighten their defense. With a string of tough matches on the horizon, now would be a bad time to drop points. 

Hamburg - Stuttgart 

Hamburg were dealt a huge blow on Thursday when it was revealed that Jose Paolo Guerrero, who had scored four goals thus far, had sustained a serious knee injury and will be out for nine months. The current Bundesliga leaders have plenty of depth to replace their injured forward, but his loss will be demoralising to say the least. How Hamburg deal with Guerrero’s injury, and whether Markus Berg will be able to deputise effectively, will be crucial to the team’s success. Stuttgart have a new look about them this year. After finishing third in last year’s Bundesliga, die Schwaben sold Mario Gomez to Bayern and for some time, were considerably weakened. The signings of Pavel Pogrebnyak, Zdravko Kuzmanovic and loanee Aliaksandr Hleb have done much to bolster Stuttgart’s chances both domestically and in the Champions League.  Now in mid-table, Stuttgart have a great opportunity to narrow the gap separating them from the Bundesliga leaders. 

Werder Bremen - Hannover 

After a dismal 2008-09 campaign, Werder Bremen are again in serious contention for top Bundesliga honors. Having permanently signed Claudio Pizarro, Marko Marin, and Tim Borowski, it seems as though Diego will not be so sorely missed after all. With seven points and defensively weak opponents in the crosshairs, Werder are within striking distance of first place. After having the Bundesliga’s worst defense in 2008-09, Hannover have allowed a respectable low three goals thus far. However, these performances have been against two newly-promoted teams, an unmotivated Hertha, and a Hoffenheim side that has yet to find its offensive connectivity. Against Thomas Schaaf’s Werder Bremen, and without Robert Enke in goal, it will be very difficult for Hannover to keep the score low. 

Koeln - Schalke 

The return of 'Prinz Poldi' to Koeln was supposed to be Tolkein-esque, but has thus far been anything but. Lukas Podolski has yet to score, and Koeln have taken just one point from four matches. After netting for Germany in midweek, perhaps Koeln’s 'Prince' will finally come of age.  Felix Magath’s latest project is a Schalke side on the heels of its worst finish in years. Despite limited activity in the transfer market, Schalke have shown some promising signs from a resurgent Ivan Rakitic, and currently sit in joint third place. Defensively endowed but creatively lacking, Schalke will count on their Croatian starlet to provide this Sunday. 

Clark Whitney,