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Bundesliga Weekend Preview: Round 17

Friday (all times local)

20:30 Schalke – Mainz

Saturday

15:30 Bayer Leverkusen – Borussia M’gladbach
15:30 Bayern Munich – Hertha Berlin
15:30 Borussia Dortmund – Freiburg
15:30 Eintracht Frankfurt – Wolfsburg
15:30 Hannover – Bochum
18:30 Stuttgart – Hoffenheim

Sunday

15:30 Hamburg – Werder Bremen
17:30 Koeln – Nuernberg


Schalke – Mainz

Schalke have been on the up and up this year and signalled their intent to pursue the title with an impressive 2-0 win in Bremen last week. Felix Magath has found a real winning combination this year, and will look to end the 2009 campaign on a high note with a good showing against Mainz.

Thanks to a gift of a penalty from Stuttgart goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, Mainz were able to manage a point in Swabia last week. The newly promoted side have managed just six points from eight away matches, and will need a drastic improvement in road form if they are to take points in Gelsenkirchen.

Bayer Leverkusen – Borussia M’gladbach

Leverkusen may be the Bundesliga’s only unbeaten team, but their performance in recent weeks has definitely raised eyebrows. Having drawn six of their last eight matches, Leverkusen have seen a once commanding lead dwindle, and are in danger of losing their position as league leaders. M’gladbach are no world-beaters, but the Werkself must be sharp if they are to take three points.

It’s been a year of streaks for M’gladbach, but the Prussians broke the cycle with last week’s 5-3 win over Hannover. In that match, M’gladbach scored just twice, but were aided by an unprecedented three own goals from their guests. Now in the uncharted waters of having won, lost, and then won in their last three matches, it’s hard to tell what result to expect from Saturday’s match.

Bayern Munich – Hertha Berlin

Last week’s 5-1 hammering of Bochum was just the latest in a series of very impressive results for Bayern Munich. After more than three months of questionable play, Louis van Gaal’s men are finally performing to their potential. Against Hertha, Arjen Robben is likely to start the match on the bench, and fit-again Franck Ribery might even be a late substitute.

In recent weeks, things have been looking up for Hertha Berlin. After winning consecutive Europa League matches, the most recent of which was Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over Sporting CP, the capital club managed to qualify for the knockout stages. Domestically, it’s been ages since Hertha last won, but a 2-2 draw with Leverkusen in round 16 will do well to lift their spirits.

Borussia Dortmund – Freiburg

In their last outing, Dortmund crushed Wolfsburg 3-1 in a match that saw the Ruhr side put on a clinic in finishing. Juergen Klopp’s men were 2-0 up within the opening 10 minutes, and never allowed Wolfsburg to get back into the match. It was their third consecutive win, and in their last match before the winter break, Dortmund have a great chance of finishing the 2009 campaign in the top five.

A scoreless draw was all Freiburg could manage in round 16’s clash with Koeln, but the result was an encouraging one. It was just the fourth clean sheet that Simon Pouplin has recorded all year. Looking ahead to tomorrow’s clash, Pouplin and his leaky defence—ranked second-worst in the league—will have it all to do against a red-hot Dortmund attack, but with a three-game undefeated streak on the line, their form isn’t exactly lacking either.

Eintracht Frankfurt – Wolfsburg

Frankfurt coach Michael Skibbe has previously lamented his team’s mediocrity, but with 23 points, the 10th place club stand surprisingly close to the top third of the league. A win over struggling Wolfsburg is certainly not out of the realm of possibility, but could bring Frankfurt as high as sixth.

Following last week’s dismal 3-1 home defeat to Dortmund, Wolfsburg captain Josue stated that his team would play “for the manager” this weekend. Coach Armin Veh is under serious pressure following his team’s exit from the Champions League and just one win from seven league matches. Currently in ninth place, Wolfsburg need a win or Veh might not remain at the helm when the Bundesliga resumes in January.

Hannover – Bochum

Hannover’s nightmare against M’gladbach was a match to forget, and surely coach Andreas Bergmann has put the match behind him. Looking ahead to the Bochum match, Bergmann will definitely be without long-term casualty Mikael Forssell, but fit-again attacker Jan Schlaudraff may be available to play a full 90 minutes.

It’s been a disastrous campaign for Bochum. Currently in the relegation zone, the eternal scrappers have been better on the road than at home, but have been known to show up for big games. Hannover are not exactly the league’s elite, but Heiko Herrlich’s side will be keen to finish 2009 above the drop.

Stuttgart – Hoffenheim

Since Christian Gross’ takeover, Stuttgart have been in much improved form. After beating Unirea Urziceni 3-1 in order to qualify for the Champions League knockout stages, Stuttgart were 1-0 ahead against Mainz until a silly act of petulance saw Jens Lehmann sent off and Mainz score a last-gasp penalty. Lehmann picked up a knee injury and a three-game suspension, the first of which he will serve on Saturday.

Last year, Hoffenheim were a newly-promoted side that finished the autumn/winter campaign in first place. Things are different, however, this year. With 25 points from 16 matches, the village club stand seventh in the league, and will need a win on Saturday to boost morale ahead of the winter break. Ralf Rangnick will be without central defender Marvin Compper and striker Demba Ba, both of whom have fallen ill with swine flu.

Hamburg – Werder Bremen

After a very distressing winless spell, Hamburg righted their sails with a 4-0 win in Nuernberg in round 16. Striker Mladen Petric played the full 90 minutes for the first time since late September, and Hamburg’s attack is accordingly looking much stronger. Injuries to Ze Roberto and Jose Paolo Guerrero remain a concern, but with Petric back in the squad and in-form Eljero Elia working magic on the wing, Hamburg are looking to be the powerhouse they were earlier in the season.

Werder were 2-0 losers to Schalke in their most recent domestic fixture. It was a well-fought battle, but Thomas Schaaf’s men were unable to find their rhythm against a physical Schalke side that eargerly broke up play. The loss was Werder’s first since matchday 1. Hamburg will always be difficult opponents, but Bremen will be keen to avoid dropping any more points, lest they fall out of the title race.

Koeln – Nuernberg

Lukas Podolski’s return to Koeln hasn’t exactly gone as expected. Instead of scoring and creating goals, the Germany striker has done very little, and his team’s attack is worst in the league. With just seven goals in 16 outings, Koeln are in 14th place only due to their defence, which has surprisingly allowed only 15 goals. A strong and combative Koeln side face struggling Nuernberg in a match that may be decided by a single goal.

8-0. This is the aggregate score by which Nuernberg have lost their last two matches, to Dortmund and Hamburg. It was always going to be a difficult task for Nuernberg to survive the drop, but the newly promoted team can surely improve on recent performances, and will need to do so if they are to beat a combative Koeln side.

Clark Whitney, Goal.com