After the crazy weekend on Matchday 25 last time out, 2. Bundesliga is back with more big clashes at the bottom and another important derby game. It will certainly be tough to live up to the hype of the previous nine games, but this league has proved that anything is possible.
Arminia Bielefeld – 1. FC Nürnberg (Friday 17:30)
Arminia managed to muster up the courage against Heidenheim to rescue a very late point and continue their very promising start following the Winter Break. Jeff Saibene will be hoping that a return to the Bielefelder Alm will spur his men onto a result, perhaps not leaving it so late this time. They are full fit aside from Can Özkan’s illness and Nils Quaschner’s long-term absence. Under the floodlights the Schüco Arena is a very tough place to travel to, and Arminia are keen to show just that and continue their promotion push.
Michael Köllner will be hoping to banish the derby demons from last week and forget about what was an incredibly lacklustre performance from his side. Enrico Valentini’s return should see them return to a more normal formation and, at the very least, push Eduard Löwen out of defence. Creating and taking chances has been the real issue in recent weeks, with Mikael Ishak’s absence beginning to hamper their play. Federico Palacios-Martinez needs someone to play off, something that Adam Zrelak will need to adapt to sooner rather than later.
Dynamo Dresden – 1. FC Heidenheim (Friday 17:30)
After two wins in a row it seemed like Dynamo had finally found some sort of consistency, but poor finishing and individual mistakes brought them back down to earth with a bump against Darmstadt. That defeat, combined with the results of the sides below them, means Uwe Neuhaus is forced to look over his shoulder once more at the relegation picture. The good news is that there are no fresh injury concerns for Neuhaus, although he will want to see Lucas Röser and Moussa Koné back to their troublesome best to give the home fans something to cheer.
Heidenheim were also frustrated on Matchday 25. They knew full well that they had three points in their hand against Arminia, only to let it slip at the death. A 2-0 quickly became 2-2, and another tough test awaits Frank Schmidt and his men as they battle to stay clear of the bedlam at the bottom. Schmidt confirmed Oliver Steurer would miss the came with a muscle problem, though he remains the only absentee from that game. Defence wasn’t so much the issue last time out, but the wasted chances were what really cost Heidenheim an all-important win.
FC St. Pauli – Eintracht Braunschweig (Saturday 12:00)
Despite their defeat in Düsseldorf, things have been largely positive for Sankt Pauli in recent weeks. With a draw and two wins preceding the loss, Markus Kauczinski was looking forward to a final push as his star players began to return to fitness. Fast forward a week and both Maurice Litka and Waldemar Sobota have been sidelined. There is positive news regarding Christopher Buchtmann, who has returned to training, and also with Lasse Sobiech; he should be fit to play. Given the state of the table, this game could swing Sankt Pauli’s season one way or another.
Eintracht’s season has been fairly similar to that of their hosts on Saturday, given that it has been filled with injuries and equally topsy-turvy. Torsten Lieberknecht does seem to be guiding his side away from the dropzone and towards the top-half, yet a win-loss-win-loss run seems almost never-ending. Consistency is key and Lieberknecht will certainly be overjoyed to have seen Totte Nyman find the back of the net for the first time since September. The hope is now that he can form a real partnership with Suleiman Abdullahi, and fire the Lions back to where they belong.
SpVgg Greuther Fürth – 1. FC Kaiserslautern (Saturday 12:00)
The big battle on Saturday takes place in Franconia, as Fürth aim to move further clear of the relegation zone. They’ve been on a remarkable run of late, picking up 10 points from a possible 12. That was topped off with the derby win last weekend in Nürnberg, which has no doubt sent their confidence through the roof. Damir Buric certainly won’t let them get carried away and another three points this weekend would do their battle to beat the drop the world of good. Unsurprisingly, he is likely to name an unchanged side from that which got the better of FCN at the Max-Morlock Stadion.
Lautern have also been in fine fettle and look like a completely different side in comparison to the team that struggled in the Hinrunde. Michael Frontzeck deserves huge praise for giving them hope of staying up, with Brandon Borrello and Philipp Mwene leading that charge from the wings. Mwene is likely to have to drop into right-back, however, as Benjamin Kessel picked up a fifth yellow card. That will also allow Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker to return from injury. The Red Devils lost their last relegation six-pointer, and are desperate not to allow that to happen gain.
SV Darmstadt 98 – FC Ingolstadt 98 (Saturday 12:00)
Darmstadt are another side who are doing their best to haul themselves out of the mire, and a huge 0-2 win in Dresden went a long way to returning previous confidence. The last two games have seen the old fighting spirit return and now, back in front of their own fans, they’ll be hoping to end the long wait for a home win. The Lilies haven’t won at the Bölle since September and home form must improve over the next two months if they are to remain in the division. Their run-in is less than kind, and a win here would be a huge boost to all concerned.
Ingolstadt, who looked like the side to take advantage of Kiel’s catastrophic run a few weeks ago, are now in the relegation battle themselves. They are without a win in four and have only won once in their last seven. Stefan Leitl has struggled to find the goals required in recent weeks, scoring just once in the latest winless spell and missing two penalties in the process. Stefan Kutschke, who failed to convert from the spot on both occasions, is suspended and joins Alfredo Morales in that department. That gives Leitl the chance of change and, perhaps, finally a forward line that works.
VfL Bochum – Holstein Kiel (Saturday 12:00)
Bochum finally got back on track with a win in Ingolstadt on Monday evening, as Robin Dutt earned his first victory and goal since he took charge. Finishing is still a major issue and, in truth, the Ruhrpott side could have been comfortably clear had they taken their chances. Nevertheless, they defended well and Manuel Riemann’s penalty save helped them to a deserved three points. Even though Jan Gyamerah is set to be fit again, Dutt looks likely to name an unchanged side as Bochum go for rare back-to-back wins.
Kiel were another side who had been on the hunt for a victory, and their 11-game wait finally ended against Duisburg. The 5-0 triumph should see the confidence rush back into a team who had looked incapable of ending such a barren spell. Markus Anfang, like his opposite number, seems set to go for the exact 11 that won so convincingly against the Zebras. The challenge is now to continue that and try to close the gap that opened up between themselves and the top two, while staving off the serious challengers just below.
1. FC Union Berlin – Erzgebirge Aue (Sunday 12:30)
Union’s struggle for consistency continued away against Lautern last week and, technically, that means they’re due a win this week given their recent form. However, André Hofschneider is starting to feel the heat and fresh injuries certainly won’t help his cause. Sebastian Polter and Michael Parensen both look to be sidelined for lengthy periods, which is far from ideal. Philipp Hosiner now has the chance to impress up front, while the injury to Parensen is one which might cause a reshuffle. They’ll be hoping that their good run at home can take them further up the table on Sunday.
On the flip side, Aue’s run of late his given them a platform to build on. Three draws and a win from their last four has kept their heads above water, with Pascal Köpke’s vein of goalscoring proving key to that form. Despite conceding in all but one of those games, the defence also has a more solid look and, overall, the Violets are playing better football. Hannes Drews will have to make do without Clemens Fandrich on their trip to Berlin, after the midfielder picked up a fifth yellow card against Sandhausen. That will likely give the impressive Mario Kvesic another chance in the middle.
Jahn Regensburg – SV Sandhausen (Sunday 12:30)
Jahn fell to the sword against Braunschweig last weekend and while the scoreline looked close, Eintracht were comfortably the better side. André Weis was the reason that the score stayed respectable, though there are some doubts over whether or not he will stay in goal with Philipp Pentke returning. Otherwise it’s very much as expected, though Jann George may return for some added creativity on the wing instead of Sebastian Stolze’s raw pace. A win here would get them back on track after two defeats in three.
Kenan Kocak will be hoping he can turn around a small recent slump after Sandhausen picked up just one win in five. They were the better side against Aue but poor finishing and the woodwork meant they left with a solitary point. They are only four points behind Kiel and are keen to keep applying the pressure as they begin to get more key players back from injury. That list is still long but is gradually getting smaller, with the recent return of Stefan Kulovits adding more bite to midfield. He has also been rewarded with a new deal just this week.
MSV Duisburg – Fortuna Düsseldorf (Sunday 12:30)
Duisburg joined the host of sides who lost ground on Kiel on the last matchday as they aimed to go into third. They, however, were the side that were roundly beaten by the Storks. It was a day to forget for the Zebras who will be desperate to get back to winning ways as soon as possible and put the pressure back on once more. They have a full strength squad available, minus the usual absentees, which means Enis Hajri and Dustin Bomheuer are set to return and make up the usual defence. Something that Ilia Gruev and Mark Flekken will no doubt be pleased about.
Friedhelm Funkel’s men had a vastly contrasting weekend after beating Sankt Pauli to return to the top of the league table. A seven-point gap to Kiel with nine games to go is a promising margin, and one which he will hope to grow between now and May. Much like their local rivals, Fortuna saw key players return to from injury last weekend. That, coupled with the victory, should be enough to kick them out of their mini-slump. With Kiel in Bochum and Nürnberg in Bielefeld, this could turn out to be a very good three days if they can get the right result in the Straßenbahn-Derby.