Bundesliga Weekend Preview: Round 18

The Bundesliga resumes after a long winter break…
Friday (all times local)

20:30 Bayern Munich - Hoffenheim

Saturday

15:30 Bayer Leverkusen – Mainz
15:30 Borussia M’gladbach – Bochum
15:30 Eintracht Frankfurt – Werder Bremen
15:30 Hamburg – Freiburg
15:30 Hannover – Hertha Berlin
18:30 Stuttgart – Wolfsburg

Sunday

15:30 Schalke – Nuernberg
17:30 Koeln – Borussia Dortmund

Bayern Munich – Hoffenheim

Bayern ended the fall campaign with six consecutive wins in all competitions, and earned a 3-1 win over Basel in Switzerland in Tuesday’s warm-up match. With Arjen Robben fit once more, only Franck Ribery will be missing from Louis van Gaal’s line-up as Bayern seek to gain top spot in the Bundesliga for the first time in over 600 days.

Ralf Rangnick’s side disappointed in the autumn when facing quality opposition, and Hoffenheim’s task will only be made more difficult due to his lack of selection options. Luis Gustavo (suspension), Isaac Vorsah and Chinedu Obasi (both international duty), Prince Tagoe, Tobias Weis and Mathias Jaissle (all injured) are definite absentees, while Carlos Eduardo is rated doubtful after sustaining a knee injury.

Bayer Leverkusen – Mainz

Things are looking bright for Leverkusen. After becoming just the third team in Bundesliga history to go undefeated throughout the fall campaign, Juup Heynckes’ men enter the new year even stronger than before. Whilst Hans Sarpei, Assimiou Toure, Gonzalo Castro, Lars Bender and Thomas Zdebel are unavailable for selection, Leverkusen welcome back influential figures Renato Augusto and Simon Rolfes, who spent long spells of the first half of the season on the sidelines.

Mainz will be disappointed to have slipped to ninth place before the winter break, but with just a single point separating them from seventh-placed Hoffenheim, the newly promoted club can be satisfied with their position in the table. Having signed Hungarian striker Adam Szalai on loan from Real Madrid, Thomas Tuchel’s side will look to improve their goal scoring record, and start off 2010 on a high note.

Borussia M’gladbach – Bochum

An ever-streaky Moenchengladbach side entered the winter break in 11th place, an impressive position after the Prussian side barely avoided relegation in 2008-09. The spring campaign is set to begin with a tough contest, as Michael Frontzeck will be without Rob Friend, Karim Matmour, Paul Stalteri, Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker, Gal Alberman and Christian Dorda, and may also be missing Roberto Colautti.

Perennial scrappers Bochum will be disappointed to have finished the fall campaign in 16th place, but are currently in their element as pressure mounts. Their visit to Moenchengladbach will be a tough one, as Anthar Yahia, Kevin Vogt, Diego Klimowicz and Philipp Boenig will be unavailable for selection.

Eintracht Frankfurt – Werder Bremen

Although the fall campaign began well for Frankfurt, their persistent gravitation towards a mid-table position trumped an early run of success, and Michael Skibbe’s side now stand in 10th place. After beating Bremen 3-2 in August, Skibbe’s side will be eager to replicate their success in the return leg.

Undoubtedly among the Bundesliga’s most talented teams, Werder Bremen were disappointed to win just one of their last seven matches before the break. As league play resumes, Thomas Schaaf’s side will look to improve their form, but may be without Claudio Pizarro, Per Mertesacker and Hugo Almeida, who are all rated doubtful for the weekend's match.

Hamburg – Freiburg

A seemingly endless string of injuries caused Hamburg to slip from the top of the league table, but an impressive run late on saw Bruno Labbadia’s side finish the first half in fourth place, just four adrift of Bayer Leverkusen. Ze Roberto and Jose Paolo Guerrero remain injured, but Eljero Elia returned to training ahead of schedule and could feature on Saturday.

Only Hertha Berlin had a more porous defense than Freiburg in the first half of the season, but Robin Dutt’s side are well clear of the relegation zone. Dutt will be without top scorer Mohamadou Idrissou, who is on international duty with Cameroon.

Hannover – Hertha Berlin

Following an impressive start to their fall campaign, Hannover’s form fell drastically as the winter break approached. Despite being without first-choice strikers Jan Schlaudraff and Mikael Forssell, the Saxons were able to grind out positive results before losing four of their last five matches. Jan Durica has been brought in to bolster what has been a leaky defence as Hannover make a move to avoid relegation.

It was an unspeakably miserable fall campaign for Hertha Berlin. Having won just one match and taken six points in total, the capital club are dead last, a full 10 points from the safety of a 15th place spot. After taking a month off and training in sunny Mallorca, Hertha return to work rejuvenated, but with a mountain to climb. Maximilian Nicu and Gojko Kacar are both injured, and will be unavailable for selection.

Stuttgart – Wolfsburg

Towards the end of a miserable fall campaign, Stuttgart seemed to turn over a new leaf. Following the sacking of coach Markus Babbel in early December, Christian Gross led his team to two victories and a draw in all competitions. As 2010 begins, the Swabians will be without Matthieu Delpierre (toe) and Sebastian Rudy (knee). Thomas Hitzlsperger (knee) is also in doubt following a training clash with Sven Ulreich. Cristian Molinaro, who recently signed from Juventus, is set to start on the left side of defence.

Following their triumphant title run last year, Wolfsburg’s fall campaign was anything but a repeat performance. The pressure of playing in three competitions, as well as a complete loss of defensive form saw the reigning Bundesliga champions end the fall campaign in eighth place. Armin Veh will be without Obafemi Martins, Fabian Johnson and Josue, but will be relieved to have Marcel Schaefer available for his matchday squad.

Schalke – Nuernberg

Having accumulated a massive debt over the years, it became clear in the fall that Schalke are facing an imminent financial crisis. In preparation for inevitable summer sales of stars including the likes of Manuel Neuer and Rafinha, the Gelsenkirchen side signed Peer Kluge, Edu, Alex Baumjohann, Bogdan Mueller and Tore Reginiussen, who will come either immediately or in the summer. Currently in second place, Schalke are desperate to take a top-three spot and secure the financial advantage of a Champions League berth.

Another side who were active in the transfer market is Nuernberg. Following a 17th-placed finish to the fall campaign, the Bavarian club signed Bayern Munich duo Breno and Andreas Ottl on loan, and sent Kluge to Schalke. The newly promoted side are still four points from safety, and have a veritable mountain to climb if they are to survive relegation.

Koeln – Borussia Dortmund

Solid defending has kept Koeln out of the relegation zone to this point, but goals will need to be created if Zvonomir Soldo’s team is to survive to see a third consecutive season in Germany’s top flight. Rumour has it that Koeln are preparing a bid for Manchester City winger Vladimir Weiss, but for the time being, Soldo will have to do without Weiss as well as Lukas Podolski, who sustained a back injury during training.

Following a disastrous string of mid-season friendlies, Dortmund return to action with hopes of finding form when it matters most. Following losses to Borussia M’gladbach and Energie Cottbus, 17-year old starlet Mario Goetze spared his team’s blushes with a late equaliser against Ahlen. The Prussians, who charged to fifth in the table ahead of the winter break, will need a sharp reversal in their fortunes if they are to beat the impressive Koeln defence.