Friday, September 25 (all times local)
20:30 Nuernberg - Bochum
Saturday, September 26
15:30 Dortmund - Schalke
15:30 Koeln - Leverkusen
15:30 Wolfsburg - Hannover
15:30 Bremen - Mainz
15:30 Frankfurt - Stuttgart
18:30 Hamburg - Bayern
Sunday, September 27
15:30 Freiburg - M’gladbach
17:30 Hoffenheim - Hertha
Nuernberg - Bochum
Newly-promoted Nuernberg have surprised some in their return to Germany’s top tier, but have plenty to prove if they are to avoid relegation. Friday’s match against a scrappy Bochum side will be a good opportunity for coach Michael Oening to measure his side’s progress.
He may have brought Bochum to Germany’s top flight and succeeded in remaining there for three years, but Marcel Koller was sacked last week after fans and club management ran out of patience. This week, a new chapter in Bochum’s history began as temporary coach Frank Heinemann stepped in as manager. After losing 3-0 to Schalke in the DFB Pokal, Heinemann has much yet to prove.
Dortmund - Schalke
Another underachieving club, Dortmund, head into Saturday with much to prove. After defeating Karlsruhe 3-0 in the DFB Pokal—a match in which Argentine striker Lucas Barrios finally showed the kind of quality exhibited in his Youtube “informercial”—Juergen Klopp’s young and gifted team might be on track to realizing their potential.
After a month of soul-searching, Felix Magath’s side has finally decided to stick with either a 3-4-1-2 or 3-4-2-1 formation featuring seven defensive players (eight if you count the goalkeeper) and three attackers. Odd as it sounds, Magath’s setup has led to plenty of success; the S04 defense is nearly impossible to break, and striker Jefferson Farfan is usually able to pull a goal out of his sleeve. It’ll be a tough thing to score in Dortmund, but if Farfan can’t create, it wouldn’t be surprising to see one of Magath’s centre-backs nod in from a corner.
Koeln - Leverkusen
Koeln were bottom of the table until a week ago, but have since rebounded well. In last Saturday’s match against Stuttgart, Die Geissboecke recorded their first win of the year, a somewhat flattering 2-0 result. In their midweek DFB Pokal match with Wolfsburg, Koeln did even better, going ahead 2-0 early on, and ending with a 3-2 victory. It will take a great performance to beat Leverkusen, but Koeln have it in them; especially if Lukas Podolski finally finds his form.
After a brilliant start to the campaign, Leverkusen have shown signs of mortality in recent weeks. With a draw against Bremen and a loss to second division outfit Kaiserslautern as results of their last two matches, coach Juup Heynckes needs to get the best from his injury-plagued squad soon. Missing from the starting lineup will be Renato Augusto, Michal Kadlec, and Patrick Helmes. Lars Bender will also be unavailable due to his participation in the U-20 World Cup.
Wolfsburg - Hannover
Six months ago, a home match against Hannover could easily be predicted to go 5-0 in favor of Wolfsburg. The Wolves never lost a league match at home during last year’s campaign, and seemed to score at will. As we’ve seen, a few months can change everything. Wolfsburg have already lost twice at home, and are no longer looking up to par with Europe’s elite sides. With a Champions League match in Manchester looming on the horizon, it will be interesting to see whether coach Armin Veh chooses to rotate his squad or if he focuses on the league.
Hannover’s defense has gone from worst in 2008-09 into a position tied for the league’s best in 2009-10. Somehow, the injured Robert Enke has not been missed between the posts. In order to do well against Wolfsburg, however, it is necessary that Hannover begin to score, and soon. Thus far, their offense has been terribly stagnant, scoring just four goals in six matches. Strikers Jan Schlaudraff and Mikael Forssell will be missing again, so it’s up to Jiri Stajner and Didier Ya Konan to pick up the slack for Hannover.
Bremen - Mainz
Bremen have been without Mesut Ozil for their last three matches, and the influential playmaker might miss out against. In Ozil’s place, Aaron Hunt has not performed to the same level as his compatriot, but Bremen have won twice, thanks to the heroics of Claudio Pizarro and a timely effort from Naldo. Their match on Saturday will not be typical of those against newly-promoted sides: after six rounds, Mainz are currently within three points of the league leaders.
Mainz have turned heads in their return to Germany’s first division. After beating Bayern in the third matchday, Mainz have won twice and lost once, leaving them in nosebleed territory. Strikers Andreas Ivanschitz and Aristide Bance have been in phenomenal form, scoring six and assisting three thus far. They’ll be the ones to watch in Saturday’s highly anticipated match.
Frankfurt - Stuttgart
Frankfurt enter Saturday’s match on a high after scoring six goals against Alemania Aachen in Wednesday’s DFB Pokal match. For the time being, Frankfurt are one of the few Bundesliga clubs still undefeated, having survived scares from the likes of Bremen, Dortmund, and most recently, Hamburg. Stuttgart are currently a weak but dangerous side, so it will be interesting to see how Frankfurt adapt to the game.
Stuttgart, teetering just above the relegation zone, will take some comfort in having beaten fourth-division outfit VfB Luebeck in midweek, but need to improve their play if they are ever to enter contention for a European spot. Coach Markus Babbel has already benched veteran goalkeeper Jens Lehmann and shuffled his lineup in search of a winning combination. Let’s see if he gets it right on Saturday.
Hamburg - Bayern
Undoubtedly the match of the week. Hamburg were convincing for the first five weeks of the campaign, but have faltered since Jose Paolo Guerrero injured his knee on international duty. The Peruvian hitman will be out for several months, and Hamburg will have to cope with his loss or see their title hopes come to an early demise. It is die Rothosen’s first home match in two weeks, and Bruno Labbadia’s side will surely be boosted ahead of Saturday’s crucial tie with Bayern.
Bayern’s campaign has been much the opposite of Hamburg’s: having started off slowly, the Munich men have won their last five matches in all competitions, outscoring opponents 18-2. Coach Louis van Gaal has recently proclaimed his opposition to a system of rotation, so we’re likely to see the same Bayern that will line up to face Juventus on Wednesday.
Freiburg - M’gladbach
Freiburg looked likely candidates for the drop until last weekend’s 4-0 victory over Hertha in Berlin, in which Ivica Banovic and Mohammadou Idrissou proved too tough for their hosts to handle. M’gladbach will prove tough opponents for Freiburg, who will be without Manuel Salz, Jonathan Jaeger, and Oemer Toprak.
The Prussians have had surprising success thus far, having defeated high-flying Mainz and having lost to Hoffenheim only after a stunning comeback. Sunday’s match will be played in Freiburg, and Filip Daems and Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker will be sidelined with injury, so die Fohlen will have it all to do if they are to earn their first win on the road.
Hoffenheim - Hertha
Following a slow start, Hoffenheim’s offense has regained the form that saw the village side stun the Bundesliga a year ago. Sejad Salihovic and Carlos Eduardo have in recent games lived up to their potential as playmakers, and strikers Demba Ba and Chinedu Obasi are finally hitting stride. With the backing of a home crowd, Hoffe will surely be a difficult team to beat on Sunday.
Hertha have been in miserable form this season, and are desperate to regain the confidence they had during last year’s title run. Having lost to 2. Bundesliga outfit 1860 Munich in Wednesday’s DFB Pokal match, Hertha’s ego is wounded. Sunday’s match will be a tough one, but for the Bundesliga’s “Old Lady,” another loss would be devastating.
Clark Whitney, Goal.com