Bundesliga Weekend Preview: Round 24

The Bundesliga continues to be an open title race with the top five separated by just four points. Points at this stage of the season will prove vital in deciding the destination of the title. Goal.com previews all the weekend action.
Friday 13th March (all times local)

20:30  VfL Wolfsburg – Schalke 04

Saturday 14th March

15:30  VfL Bochum – Bayern Munich 
15:30  Hertha Berlin – Bayer Leverkusen 
15:30  Hannover – Borussia Dortmund
15:30  Karlsruhe – Arminia Bielefeld
15:30  1.FC Koeln – Borussia Moenchengladbach
15:30  Eintrachr Frankfurt – 1899 Hoffenheim  

Sunday 15th March

17:00  Werder Bremen – VfB Stuttgart
17:00  Hamburger SV – Energie Cottbus    

VfL Wolfsburg – Schalke 04  

The opening game of round 24 sees Wolfsburg looking to continue their fine start to the second half of the season when they host Schalke at the Volkswagen Arena.  

Felix Magath’s side enjoyed a fantastic second half of the campaign last season to finish in the UEFA Cup places, and there is every reason for them to hope that they can achieve more this season if their current form continues. Five wins in their six games so far in 2009 has seen the Wolves rise to joint second in the table to sit just four points behind current leaders Hertha.  

Sascha Riether is the only real injury worry for Wolfsburg.  Makoto Hasebe and Ashkan Dejagah are poised to fill in.  

All is not well though at Schalke this season with success on the pitch seemingly further away than ever.  The Koenigsblauen had to face the ignominy of being dumped out of the DFB Pokal by second tier Mainz and their league position by no means matches the board’s lofty expectations.  

Manager Andreas Mueller paid with his job earlier this week and if things don’t improve before the end of the season the likelihood of Fred Rutten still being Schalke trainer next season will dwindle.  

The signs are that Rutten will send out the same side that beat Koeln last week. Captain Marcelo Bordon is still not able to take his place in the starting XI. Having suffered a hand injury, he now has a knee problem.   

Prediction: Wolfsburg 1-1 Schalke  

VfL Bochum – Bayern Munich   

Juergen Klinsmann revealed last week that he wanted the home game with Hannover to be the start of a winning run that would see Bayern to the title. 

A 5-1 win last Saturday followed up by a 7-1 hammering of Sporting in the Champions League lends credence to the fact that that is what is about to happen. The Bayern boss will want to see another three points notched up against Bochum this weekend.  

Bayern still have Luca Toni, Hamit Altintop and Tim Borowski unavailable through injury, although Frenchman Franck Ribery is set to return following his own injury lay-off. Daniel van Buyten has impressed in recent games and could be given the nod in defence.  

Marcel Koller’s side did well last weekend to thwart Bayer Leverkusen at the LTU Arena.  Bochum have picked up eleven points in their last six games to move to 14th in the table, but they cannot afford to relax as just three points separate them from Moenchengladbach in 17th.  

Marcel Koller has a number of selection worries ahead of the Bayern clash.  Marcel Maltritz, Diego Klimowicz, Oliver Schroeder, Shinji Ono and Anthar Yahia are all out injured or ill, while Mergim Mavraj is suspended.  

Prediction: Bochum 0-2 Bayern  

Hertha Berlin – Bayer Leverkusen  

This is probably the tie of the round with Hertha Berlin looking to keep their place at the Bundesliga summit and Bayer Leverkusen trying to break back into the European places.  

How long Hertha can keep pace at the top of the table remains to be seen, but even a top five finish will be seen as a success at the Olympiastadion.  A top three finish would exceed their expectations, whereas a title win would be a massive shock.  That said, Lucien Favre has made the ‘Old Lady’ a difficult side to beat and on their day they can beat anybody and with Andrei Voronin on top form expect the unexpected.  

Lucien Favre could well have the luxury of sending out the same team for the fourth successive game. Gojko Kacar could make an appearance on the substitutes’ bench after a 12-week injury lay-off.  

Leverkusen were disappointingly held to just a point last Sunday at home to Bochum and are in danger of losing touch with the top five. Their squad is talented enough to warrant European football next season and the Werkself will be desperate no to miss out for a second successive season.  

Bruno Labbadia has Arturo Vidal out with an eye injury, and he joins Manuel Friedrich (knee) on the sidelines.  Pirmin Schwegler could replace Vidal, while Lukas Sinkiewicz will continue to deputise for Friedrich.  

Prediction: Hertha 2-2 Leverkusen    

Hannover – Borussia Dortmund  

Hannover’s away misery continued last weekend at the Allianz Arena as they were trounced 5-1 by Bayern Munich despite taking the lead through Jiri Stajner.  Their home form has been what has kept them going this season but the Niedersachsen outfit cannot afford to rest on their laurels just yet, sitting as they do just four points above the bottom three.  

Hannover have both their first-choice full-backs with slight knocks, so Pinto and Rausch are on stand-by.  There are also question-marks over attackers Forssell and Schlaudraff, so we could well see Mike Hanke and Jan Rosenthal involved.  

Borussia Dortmund haven’t won yet in 2009 with four draws and two defeats in their six games. Trainer Juergen Klopp though seems to have impressed the BVB board of directors enough to earn a new extended contract. Last weekend saw them lose to an in-form Stuttgart side and the Yellow and Blacks currently sit 9th in the table.  

Jakub Blaszczykowski is set to make his long-awaited return following injury. Mats Hummels and Kevin-Prince Boateng therefore are the only absentees from Juergen Klopp’s squad.  

Prediction: Hannover 0-0 Dortmund  

Karlsruhe – Arminia Bielefeld  

Things aren’t looking good for Karlsruhe at the moment and their downward spiral could well see them return to the second division two years after they made the step up if they don’t start getting points on the board. A loss to rivals Stuttgart two weeks ago was a painful blow, and the Baden side followed that up last week with a narrow defeat to Wolfsburg.  

Edmund Becker may look to change his tactics against Bielefeld and play two strikers. Saglik is the main option to partner Freis in attack.  Celozzi and Goerlitz are both fighting for the berth at full back.   

Bielefeld still find themselves rooted in a fight against relegation and haven’t won in five games since their impressive win over Werder Bremen at the start of the year. They have drawn their last three though, but are just one point above the bottom three.  

Artur Wichniarek is still not certain to start, so in that case, Katongo will play as a lone striker.  Markus Bollmann is suspended, while Jonas Kamper has an adductor injury.  Nico Herzig is on stand-by if Andre Mijatovic doesn’t recover from injury.  

Prediction: Karlsruhe 0-0 Bielefeld    

1.FC Koeln – Borussia Moenchengladbach  

Christoph Daum’s side were very unlucky last Friday not to leave the Veltins Arena with a point after giving Schalke a real run for their money in the second half.  Manuel Neuer was kept very busy and on the balance of play the ‘Billy Goats’ would have been worthy of a point.  

They face a Gladbach side on Saturday that is fighting for its survival.  Both sides were promoted from the second division last season, but it is champions Borussia, who are having the tougher time of it in the top flight.  

Christoph Daum may opt to give Sanou a run on the right, while he hopes to have Petit and Fabrice Ehret available after the pair suffered slight injuries.  

Hans Meyer has not been able to stop the rot following his replacement of Jos Luhukay and the Fohlen have just 11 games to escape the drop.  That said, last weekend’s impressive 4-1 win over Hamburg will give them huge confidence.  

Roel Brouwers should continue in defence in place of Steve Gohouri, who is still not fully fit.  

Prediction: Koeln 1-1 Gladbach

Eintracht Frankfurt – 1899 Hoffenheim  

Eintracht Frankfurt are in that grey zone at the top end of the bottom half of the table. Mid-table security is within range, yet they are also within touching distance of the relegation zone. A run of poor results would see the Adler sucked down into the bottom three.  

Patrick Ochs and Martin Fenin look set to return following suspensions, but Chris is a doubt. Junichi Inamoto is on stand-by.   

The predicted goal-fest between Hoffenheim and Werder didn’t materialise last weekend as the two sides finished goalless. That said, the game was by no means boring and if it wasn’t for the post, Hoffenheim would have taken all three points and still be sitting top of the table. As it is they one of four teams on 42 points behind Hertha Berlin.  

Chinedu Obasi is out injured so Carlos Eduardo could be pushed into a more advanced position.   

Prediction: Frankfurt 0-2 Hoffenheim      

Werder Bremen – VfB Stuttgart  

Two traditional big clubs go head-to-head on Sunday at the Weser Stadion as Werder Bremen host VfB Stuttgart.    

Werder’s renaissance continued last weekend against Hoffenheim, although they were held to a goalless draw for the second successive game following their previous stalemate with Bayern.  

Thomas Schaaf’s side still sit in a lowly 10th, but will have been boosted by their recent play.  

The Werder line-up will very much depend on what happens on Thursday when they take on St-Etienne in the UEFA Cup, although Naldo is suspended and Mesut Oezil injured.  

Stuttgart are looking to maintain their impressive run which has seen them go unbeaten in the league in nine games since Markus Babbel succeeded Armin Veh as VfB trainer back in November.  The Swabians have their sights set on European football next season and will want a repeat of the 4-1 victory that had against Werder back in October.  

Stuttgart will be missing key centre-back Serdar Tasci through suspension, while Georg Niedermeier is also out injured as is Mathieu Delpierre so Markus Babbel has a real headache in the centre of his defence. Ricardo Osorio could move inside with Christian Traesch on the flank.  

Prediction: Werder 3-2 Stuttgart    

Hamburger SV – Energie Cottbus  

Hamburg’s title ambitions have taken a real blow in recent weeks with defeats to Moenchengladbach and Wolfsburg.  The ‘Rothosen’ have slipped back a little but are still level on points with Bayern, Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim four points behind leaders Hertha.   

Thursday’s UEFA Cup tie against Galatasary on Thursday will have a bearing on the line-up we see on Sunday, although the usual suspects of Atouba, Demel, Castelen and Reinhardt remain on the sidelines.   

Cottbus’ defeat in their clash with Hertha Berlin last weekend sees the Lausitzer occupying 16th place which at the moment would see them playing the third placed team from the second division in a play-off.  

Savo Pavicevic may return following illness to replace Radeljic. Other options are Burca for Cvitanovic and Jelic in attack.   

Prediction: Hamburg 2-0 Cottbus

Mathew Burt, Goal.com