Werder Bremen v Hannover 96
Bremen manager Thomas Schaaf needs three points in thisderby if his lofty talk of targeting Europe is to come true. Captain Clemens Fritz, who is suspended, along with striker Marko Arnautovic, thinks avoiding a relegation battle might be a more realistic aim for the 12th-placed team. There’s talk of yet another system change; Schaaf has experimented with a 4-4-2 in training. Will that bring more solidity? It’s doubtful. Hannover (10th), who have looked refreshed after the winter break and held off Wolfsburg with ten man last week, will be without quite a few regular defenders but can bring back midfield enforcer Sergio Pinto. The visitors will play on the counter and hope to catch out Werder’s notoriously poor defence.
Schalke 04 v Greuther Fürth
Ciprian Marica’s knee injury will force S04 to revert to a 4-2-3-1 formation, with KJ Huntelaar as the sole striker. Schalke look much better that way. New arrival Michel Bastos is apparently starting on the left, and Julian Draxler, who the locals see as more talented than Lewis Holtby, will move to his preferred no.10 spot. Bottom side Fürth have reportedly demoted captain Megim Mavraj, with Thomas Kleiner taking over the skipper’s duties. Manager Mike Büskens is forced to adopt desperate measures because the quality in the squad is simply not sufficient. They will at least battle hard and make it difficult for Schalke here. A draw is not impossible but Schalke are huge favourites at home.
VfL Wolfsburg v FC Augsburg
This is an interesting game. Wolfsburg are veritable giants in comparison to Augsburg but Markus Weinzierl’s boys have been in inspired form since the winter break. Their attacking 4-1-4-1 line-up puts plenty of pressure on opposition teams and Sascha Mölders and Ja-Cheol Koo are so good upfront that the less than average back four can take a few breathers. Wolves (13th) might not be able to play new addition Ivan Perisic and still look like treading water a bit under new manager Dieter Hecking.
Mainz 05 v Bayern Munich
In-form Mainz are deservedly occupying fifth place after a string of impressive performances. But they have one big problem ahead of their game against the league leaders: key striker Adam Szalai (11 goals) is suspended. 19-year-old Shawn Parker will come in. He’s talented but not quite the finished product yet. For Bayern, the big question is whether Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben will return to the starting line-up. Early indications are that Jupp Heynckes will leave them on the bench.
TSG Hoffenheim v SC Freiburg
There could be Hoffenheim debuts for new January recruits Heurelho Gomes in goal and Igor de Camargo up front. Whether those will make a huge difference to their side’s fortunes is doubtful, however; Marco Kurz has plenty of talented individuals but no team and the squad doesn’t look well-equipped to scrap it out in the relegation battle. Freiburg (8th) proved just good they are in the 0-0 with Leverkusen last week and should be backed for an away win here. They can welcome back midfielder Cedrick Makiadi from the AFCON and have no significant injury problems.
Fortuna Düsseldorf v VfB Stuttgart
Fortuna (14th) have started 2013 with two defeats. Can the Swabians make it a hat-trick of losses for Norbert Meier’s side? VfB are without with hard-working forward Martin Harnik, but Bruno Labbadia could compensate for that by switching to a 4-3-3 formation to soak up pressure and look for counter-attacking opportunities. Düsseldorf’s momentum from early on seems to have been lost, and the defence has been particuarly poor since the restart. Meier is expected to make a few changes at the back to liven things up but Stuttgart’s strong away form, they are the fourth-best team away from home, with 14 points from ten games, points to an away win.
Hamburger SV v Eintracht Frankfurt
Optimism has returned to the Imtech Arena after HSV’s 3-2 win over Bremen in the derby. Thorsten Fink has a settled side – only Michael Mancienne is missing at the back, and it’s debatable whether that’s actually a bad thing. Confidence has returned, and even striker Artjoms Rudnevs has looked a decent player in recent weeks. A win against fourth-placed Frankfurt would cut the gap to a Champions League spot to two points, so this is a very big game for the Northerners.
1.FC Nürnberg v Borussia Mönchengladbach
Nurnberg has one problem: scoring goals. Only Fürth and Augsburg have scored fewer than the 18 strikes Nürnberg have managed this campaign. Gladbach’s game plan is obvious: Lucien Favre will instruct his team to wait for Nürnberg’s attacks and to try to hit them on the break. The 7th-placed Foals have much more quality – and no significant injuries.
Bayer Leverkusen v Borussia Dortmund
It’s second v third at the BayArena, in what is the match of the weekend. Matches between these two teams have often seen a bit of aggro in recent years. There’ll be plenty of attacking talent on show, since neither Sascha Lewandowski nor Jürgen Klopp have any stars missing. (Borussia defender Neven Subotic, the one exception, is adequately covered for by Felipe Santana.) Tactically, it’s also an intriguing proposition: how will Leverkusen, who always feel happiest when they can sit back a bit, cope with Dortmund’s high-pressing? The quality of distribution from the back will be key for the hosts on Sunday night. If they can escape the pressing, the available space will delight Kiessling and co. It should be a high-scoring game.