2. Bundesliga – Matchday 18 Preview: Winter Break is Coming

And now the end is near, and so I face the final curtain. That’s what the great Frank Sinatra came up with for the wonderful “My Way”, but 2. Bundesliga has gone its own merry direction in the lead up to the festive season.

With FC St. Pauli as close to being bottom as they are to being third from their position of 15th, buckle up for a fantastic weekend of action before the Winterpause.  Germany’s second division resumes on Tuesday, January 23,2018 with a full schedule of midweek matches.

1. FC Union Berlin – FC Ingolstadt 04 (Friday 18:30)

The usual impulse that a new coach gives didn’t quite make its way to Union, as they swapped Jens Keller for André Hofschneider and fell to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Dynamo Dresden. They will need an improved showing to get past one of their key promotion rivals on Friday evening, in a game that is certain to decide the mood of the camp heading into 2018. There are no fresh injury concerns aside from those who have been absent long-term, though injuries have not held the capital club back in recent weeks. Three points are required to keep in touch of those above them.

Ingolstadt have also found it tough going after their record run of form. Stefan Leitl has helped the Schanzer make their way back up the table after a horrible start, yet one point from six has meant they failed to capitalise on Union’s slip-ups over the last two months. A one-all draw against Kaiserslautern was marred by refereeing decisions and snow, but Dario Lezcano’s first goal since November 6th will hopefully spark him into form. Sonny Kittel desperately needs someone to lift the pressure off his shoulders, and a lively Lezcano would do just that.

Eintracht Braunschweig – Fortuna Düsseldorf (Friday 18:30)

In spite of their recent struggles, Eintracht have managed to find some form heading towards the Winter Break. Draws have been the thorn in their side, with converting key chances and dominance into three points. That said, with major injuries threatening to derail things completely, the Lions have done well in recent weeks. A lot of that is down to Suleiman Abdullahi finding the back of the net with regularity. Torsten Lieberknecht can also look forward to the return of Ken Reichel from suspension, with Niko Kejewski likely to move into right-back.

Fortuna’s are a side who have hit a wall in recent week and are finding it extremely hard to break out of their slump. A month or so ago, and they were comfortably the best team in the league. Fast-forward to Monday night and a 2-0 defeat at home to Nürnberg means they are now third in the table, and more dropped points could open the door for sides in mid-table to push on and close the gap. Things just haven’t been clicking recently, for a variety of reasons, though Friedhelm Funkel will be hoping that Florian Neuhaus can get back to prior form after breaking back in against FCN.

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1. FC Kaiserslautern – 1. FC Nürnberg (Saturday 12:00)

Kaiserslautern could count themselves both fortunate and unfortunate in their draw with Ingolstadt, in what was a game that proved hard to watch and hard to officiate. Jeff Strasser’s men were left disappointed after the stalemate, and were even more frustrated when Benjamin Kessel was wrongly sent off. His absence, to add to the list of those already missing, in defence will mean a reshuffle for what might as well be a must-win game for the Red Devils. While they can take heart from what St. Pauli managed last term, points need to come quickly in order to keep the club alive.

Unfortunately for the hosts, they have run into Nürnberg at a less than ideal time. Michael Köllner and his Franconian outfit look like a very solid bet to be in the top three come May, and the win over Fortuna only heightened expectations. Mikael Ishak has led the charge, though it was the unlikely figure of Georg Margreitter that did the business at both ends on Monday. There isn’t likely to be too much change to the side that started in Düsseldorf, unless Köllner opts to start Ondrej Petrak in defensive midfield after a promising performance.

Erzgebirge Aue – 1. FC Heidenheim (Saturday 12:00)

The Violets got back to winning ways last weekend, eventually, after a deserved three points against Darmstadt. It could have so easily been more but for Daniel Heuer Fernandes and the frame of the goal. While there isn’t set to be a repeat of the snowy conditions of Friday past, the home faithful are hoping that Hannes Drews can conjure up a repeat performance. There are high hopes that they will be able to do that with a fresh front three that caused Darmstadt all sorts of problems, although Pascal Köpke’s cameo off the bench may well prove too hard to ignore.

Heidenheim are aiming to bounce back from their loss in Fürth, where they looked distinctly out of sorts. Frank Schmidt’s men failed to get going at all, with defeat bringing them closer to the drop-zone once more. Well aware that a win could see them into the top half of the table until January, they are out to prove a point this weekend. With no new injury worries it is likely that the same players who tasted defeat at the Ronhof are to be afforded another chance to get it right. Yet, given Aue’s game, a switch to a slightly more defensive wouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

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Jahn Regensburg – Arminia Bielefeld (Saturday 12:00)

Jahn were another side who saw their impressive form curtailed on Matchday 17, with Bochum taking away all three points from the Continental Arena. It might be the case that Jann George is sent back into the starting side to give Achim Beierlorzer’s side a touch more creativity. Oliver Hein, who has been missing since February, remains injured alongside Andreas Geipl and that is how it has been for the last few weeks. Given all that, little is likely to change from Beierlorzer’s plans in the previous month. It’s more a matter of finding the back of the net when it counts.

Arminia’s form continues to resemble a yo-yo as the club from the Bielefelder Alm enter the final game of a turbulent year. There is little doubt that Jeff Saibene has worked wonders and they are keen to end on a high, especially after defeat in Sandhausen’s snowy Hardtwaldstadion. It will be very much as you were for the game against Jahn, with the usual substitutes and rotation players still out injured. Andreas Voglsammer and Fabian Klos seem to have rekindled their partnership in recent weeks, and that is something that gives Saibene hope of three points this weekend.

SpVgg Greuther Fürth – SV Darmstadt 98 (Sunday 12:30)

The Shamrocks’ revival continues, although perhaps that is limited to when they play at home. It’s a good job that they’re at the Ronhof once more before the international break, in what is a key battle between 16th and 17th. Fürth knows that a win will take them out of the bottom two and means leapfrogging Darmstadt in the process. The only issue is Mario Maloca is suspended at the heart of their defence, meaning some not-so-drastic alterations are necessary. Should the hosts come out on top, then almost the entire league table will be forced to look over their shoulders.

He’s back. Dirk Schuster’s return to the helm of his beloved Lilies was crowned during the week, as Torsten Frings was given his marching orders. He inherits a team in trouble, but not in the same state they were first time around. There is still familiar faces around the club, and he’ll hope that his return sparks Aytac Sulu back into his usual form. Felix Platte and Tobias Kempe’s returns from injury mean that Jan Rosenthal’s illness is the only setback from a fully fit squad. The question is, will it be the beginning of another fairytale run for Schuster and Darmstadt?

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SV Sandhausen – Holstein Kiel (Sunday 12:30)

It was somewhat apt that Sandhausen and Bielefeld ended up playing each other in the final game of the Hinrunde, given their topsy-turvy nature. Kenan Kocak will be ecstatic with how his side have fared over the last five months. Sandhausen deserve huge credit for not letting an injury list as long as Stefan Kulovits’ broken arm from almost the word go. Currently on 24 points, they harbour feint hopes of making a burst for the top half for the very first time. A win would cement their best ever start to a season through 18 games, as they continue to build upon solid season after solid season.

3. Liga promotion. Schleswig-Holstein Cup champions. 2. Bundesliga Herbstmeister. It’s been an okay 2017 for Holstein Kiel. Expected to be able to hold their own before the campaign started, the Storks have surpassed everyone’s expectations to sit top of the table through the Hinrunde.  The main issue is continuing that good form against 17 sides who are now fully aware of what they bring to the party. A nil-all draw in Braunschweig was somewhat disappointing given the chances Markus Anfang’s men created, something they are hoping to set straight this time around.

MSV Duisburg – Dynamo Dresden (Sunday 12:30)

The Zebras are happy to be home after a rollercoaster ride of a game in Hamburg. Two penalties, a red card and Stanislav Iljutchenko’s late equaliser capped off a thoroughly entertaining tussle. That said, Ilia Gruev won’t mind if his side prove to be less exciting in order to record a third home win in succession. A victory to cap off a year, where they did the 3. Liga and Niederrheinpokal double, would see them into the top half of the table for the first time after 18 games since Milan Sasic was in charge. Sticking with their Bulgarian head coach certainly seems to have paid dividends.

Dynamo are also locked on 23 points with their hosts for Sunday’s match, and are also keen to creep further up the table. Despite a rather turbulent start to the campaign, things have settled under Uwe Neuhaus’ stewardship and the Sachsen side seem set for a promising 2018. Lumpi’s winner in Berlin pulled everyone between fifth and 15th into the battle with Union to catch the top three, and another three points in the Ruhr would do their cause no harm whatsoever. Marco Hartmann’s return will be welcomed at the base of midfield, given that Manuel Konrad is likely to miss out.

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FC St. Pauli – VfL Bochum (Monday 19:30)

Injuries, suspensions, water squirting. It’s not been a terribly easy way for Markus Kauczinski to take charge of the Kiezkickers. He is now without Bernd Nehrig, thanks to a training injury, and Aziz Bouhaddouz thanks to his exploits with a water bottle. While that was an extremely harsh red card, Sankt Pauli know that they must bounce back to avoid slipping further away from the top three themselves. However, with a likely eight players unavailable for the Monday night clash under the lights at the Millerntor, they could be looking to avoid defeat once more.

Bochum are in good form. Yes, you read those five words correctly. Two wins on the bounce and a fourth clean sheet since Jens Rasiejewski took charge mean there is a rare positive air around the club. That, coupled with a distinct lack of injuries and you would be forgiven for wondering what has happened to the Ruhrpott side. Promotion was the goal at the start of the season, and a win in Hamburg could do wonders for their confidence after the Winterpause. It might be incredibly unlikely, but if there’s one club that don’t do things by halves… that is VfL Bochum.

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Jonathan Walsh

Jonny is a 2. Bundesliga fanatic who does little else with his time other than follow, watch, write about, think about, and promote his favorite league. When he isn't in university or trying to defend the Bundesliga's 50+1 rule, you'll most likely find him watching whatever football he can find on TV. Follow him @jonathanwalsh_

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