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Bundesliga Weekend Preview: Round 8

Friday (all times local)

20:30 Schalke – Eintracht Frankfurt

Saturday

15:30 Hannover - Freiburg
15:30 Bayern Munich - Koeln
15:30 Bayer Leverkusen - Nuernberg
15:30 Bochum - Wolfsburg
15:30 Mainz - Hoffenheim
15:30 Borussia M’gladbach - Borussia Dortmund

Sunday

15:30 Stuttgart - Werder Bremen
17:30 Hertha Berlin - Hamburg

Schalke - Eintracht Frankfurt

Fresh off their Ruhr Derby victory, Schalke revealed some disturbing news: the club is dangerously close to bankruptcy. With a major sale of players imminent in the January transfer window, the Gelsenkirchen side’s only chance at a European berth (and more money) is to finish off the calendar year strongly. To Schalke’s benefit, Frankfurt lost 3-0 at home to a less-than-convincing Stuttgart last weekend. Marcelo Bordon is an injury doubt for Felix Magath’s side, but Kevin Kuranyi looks likely to be available.

Since taking over this summer, Frankfurt coach Michael Skibbe has impressed by all accounts. Heading into Round 7, his side was one of the Bundesliga’s few undefeated sides. His teams' undefeated stint may have since ended, but Frankfurt remain a much more formidable side than in years past. Friday’s match in Gelsenkirchen will be a homecoming for Skibbe, who will have the services of Ioannis Amantidis again, after the Greek striker recovered from injury.

Hannover – Freiburg

After last week’s loss to Wolfsburg, Hannover have dropped ever closer to the relegation zone. The team has, with the exception of last week, been solid defensively, but will need to get more from forwards Jiri Stajner and Didier Ya Konan. Still unavailable are Robert Enke, Mario Eggimann, Vinicius, Altin Lala, Jan Schlaudraff and Mikael Forssell.

By contrast, Freiburg are in rude health and will only miss Jonathan Jaeger and Oemer Toprak. The newly-promoted side climbed to 10th, after last week’s 3-0 win over M’gladbach, and could jump into the top five with a win on Saturday.

                                Bayern Munich – Koeln

In the aftermath of his team’s 0-0 midweek draw against Juventus, Bayern coach Louis van Gaal described the scene as a “battlefield.” In the first half, Arjen Robben limped off with what was initially feared to be a serious knee injury. Word today indicated that the Dutch winger will miss three to four weeks. But that was not the only disparaging news. Van Gaal ruled Franck Ribery out of his squad to face Koeln, and cast doubts on the fitness of Daniel van Buyten as well. Saturday’s game will be a real test of Bayern’s mettle. Without their two most creative players, will Bayern be able to score? The answer largely depends on the performance of midfield providers Thomas Mueller and Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Koeln may have finally won two weeks ago, but still have much to prove if they are to avoid the drop. Although Zvonimir Soldo’s defence has not been particularly leaky, the offence has utterly failed to score goals. Lukas Podolski has managed just one goal since returning to the RheinEnergieStadion and Milivoje Novakovic has yet to score. Bayern’s defence has been notoriously inconsistent in recent years and with van Buyten a possible absentee, perhaps Koeln’s striking duo will finally hit their stride on Saturday.

Bayer Leverkusen – Nuernberg

Last week marked the return of Renato Augusto to Juup Heynckes’ ranks. The Brazilian midfielder had previously been sidelined with an injury in what proved to be a difficult but successful stint for Leverkusen. The latest word from the Leverkusen camp is that Augusto will again be unavailable, this time due to a minor calf injury. For Leverkusen, victory will not be easy against a Nuernberg side that features a surprisingly good defence, given its relegation zone ranking.

Nuernberg lost again last week, a 1-0 defeat to Bochum. It was clear that the newly-promoted side needs to find a way to score, and soon. From a defensive standpoint, allowing one goal is not all that bad, especially when the majority of possession is conceded. At the moment, Dominic Maroh may be the league’s best defender. It’s up front where Nuernberg need to find some form, sooner rather than later.

Bochum – Wolfsburg

Bochum earned an important win over Nuernberg last week, and will look to repeat the performance in front of their home fans. Frank Heinemann will be without Stanislav Sestak, Daniel Imhof, Philipp Boenig, and Kevin Vogt.

Wolfsburg enter Saturday’s clash on a bit of a high, having gone a goal ahead before ultimately losing 2-1 to Manchester United on Wednesday. Coach Armin Veh was pleased with his team’s performance but disappointed with the result. A win in Bochum will go a long way towards allowing the club to put the unlucky Champions League defeat behind them.

Mainz – Hoffenheim

The Bundesliga’s surprise overachievers may have suffered a setback in Bremen, but they will look to reverse their fortunes in front of a home crowd. Thomas Tuchel’s side has a laundry list of injuries, but the only new addition is midfielder Tim Hoogland.

It’s official: the Hoffe is back. Last week’s 5-1 trouncing of Hertha may have said more of the lack of quality in the Berlin squad than it did about the Hoffe’s ability, but it also revealed the last puzzle piece for the Hoffenheim side: Vedad Ibisevic. The Bosnia-Herzegovina forward netted an early hat trick to power his team to victory. With one of the league’s most impressive defences and Ibisevic, Demba Ba and Chinedu Obasi scoring goals for fun, the Hoffe train is back in top gear. Next stop: Mainz.

Borussia M’gladbach – Borussia Dortmund

In their second consecutive season in the first division, M’gladbach started off well, but have since fallen hard. Die Fohlen have performed well at home, however, and Saturday’s match against a struggling Dortmund side offers an opportunity to rebound. M’gladbach will have to do without captain Filip Daems, who remains sidelined with injury.

Dortmund received more bad news this week when it was revealed that captain Sebastian Kehl would be missing for six more weeks. The defensive midfielder has been plagued by injury and has yet to play this season. Otherwise, Juergen Klopp’s side should be at full strength. It’s been a disappointing year thus far, but as they say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. A win in M’gladbach could be that step.

Stuttgart – Werder Bremen

Another Champions League week, another dismal display from Stuttgart. This time, it was Romanian outfit Unirea Urziceni that held the Swabians to a 1-1 draw. If last year’s third place finishers are to rise from the bottom half of the table, they’ll have to start playing well for 90 minutes, not just 45.

Werder Bremen, by contrast, have done quite well in the Europa League. This week marked a 3-1 win over Athletic Bilbao. After several years of underachieving in the Champions League, it seems that Werder have found a good home in the Europa League. Assuming no injuries in the wake of the Bilbao match, Werder should be in top shape for  Sunday’s match.

Hertha Berlin – Hamburg

Lucien Favre was finally relieved of his duties as Hertha coach on Monday. In his place, for the time being, is caretaker Karsten Heine. In his first game as coach, Heine saw his team lose 1-0 to Sporting. The capital club now looks to rebound with a convincing performance against Hamburg.

Unlike their Sunday opponents, Hamburg put in a marvellous shift on Thursday, beating Hapoel Tel-Aviv 4-2. Markus Berg scored an early brace, which was critical for the hosts, who were previously lacking in striking options, given Jose Paolo Guerrero’s injury and Berg’s poor form.

Clark Whitney, Goal.com