Matchday 26 is upon us, as the Bundesliga nears the 3/4 mark of the season. Due to European commitments, Leverkusen, who lost 2-0 to Villarreal and Dortmund, who destroyed Tottenham’s B squad 3-0 will get an extra day of rest and play HSV and Mainz on Sunday. Let’s start our predictions (all in bold) in Berlin.
- Hoffenheim vs Wolfsburg is supposed to be about “high-stakes”, as “focused Hoffenheim” take on “distracted Wolfsburg” if you believe Bundesliga.com, but in reality, it’s two of the Bundesliga’s most despised clubs heading in opposite directions. Julian Nagelsmann’s shine appears to have worn off, after wins against Mainz and Augsburg, as 1899 suffered a horrific beating from Stuttgart to the tune of 5-1, giving up embarrassing goals, like this one to Filip Kostic in the process. Two suspensions (Rudy and Polanski) and injuries to Kevin Volland, Tobias Strobl means that TSV could be without 4 players who have all played over 1200 minutes. That does not bode well against the revitalized Wolfsburg, led by the duo of André Schürrle and Julian Draxler – combining for 11 goals across all competitions in 2016 already, who managed to score just 5 in the fall season. Max Arnold’s emergence as a central midfielder has been an interesting development and with Luiz Gustavo’s return alongside the very solid Josuha Guilavogui, Wolfsburg will trot out a trio of guys who are above 87% pass completion. That should be more than enough to dominate the midfield battle and feed the likes of Draxler and Schürrle – both excellent at running at defenders, plus Max Kruse who had a hat-trick in the Hinrunde’s 4-2 win. So, who cares if Wolfsburg are an atrocious away team, they are in form and should win by at least 2 goals.
- Ingolstadt will host Stuttgart sadly without suspended Pascal Groß, who has basically been an a 1 man offense with his set-pieces and key passes, as he leads the Bundesliga with 73. It should still be an interesting matchup of strength versus strength, as die Schanzer allow the third fewest shots on target with 3.5/gm (87 total to 2nd place Dortmund’s 86) versus the high-powered VfB who average 16 shots per game and 6 on target per match (154 total). With players like Timo Werner (8th in total shots), or the scorer of the match winner in the Hinrunde in Daniel Didavi (4th overall with 78 shots) and Filip Kostic, 5th in the Bundesliga with 54 chances created the home team will be tested. On the flip side, it’s an astounding matchup of the league’s most anemic offense (19 goals for Ingolstadt) versus the worst defense (49 goals allowed by die Schwaben), that will probably matter less because of the home team’s reliance on Groß. While I don’t expect Stuttgart to significantly add to their league leading 18 goals in the Rückrunde, they should come away with all 3 points from Ingolstadt. I’m not going near the Audi vs Mercedes comparisons, as I leave that to the excellent Talking Fussball crew, who mentioned that in their midweek show.
- The less said about Darmstadt hosting Augsburg, the better, but at least these two teams are meeting in the Bundesliga, and not in the Regionalliga, as they did just a few years ago. It’s a classic relegation six-pointer, for two teams stuck on 26 points – 6 wins, 8 draws and 11 losses for both! Neither team is really in form, only 5 points from their last 6 games, and Darmstadt have lost their last 4 home games, as only Hannover 96 earned fewer points (6) than the Lilies’ 7 at home this season. Augsburg are a pretty good away team with 15 points away from the WWK Arena and were incredibly unlucky to lose 2 points from 3-0 up against Leverkusen. Their propensity to shoot early, often and not very accurately has been their bugaboo, but Koo, Caiuby, Finnbogason and Bobadilla have combined for 7 goals in their last 5 matches. One of that quartet will score on Saturday, with Augsburg winning, as well!
- Gladbach welcome Frankfurt and their new coach Niko Kovac, as the Hessians seek some badly needed points to avoid the drop to the Bundesliga 2. With 4 losses under Andre Schubert (compared to just 1 in the Hinrunde) 2016 has not been a success for BMG. Having earned just 10 points in 8 matches so far, goals have not been a problem – they are leading the league with 16 in total. The Foals offense is powered by the magisterial Raffael, who is already in double figures in goals and assists and a ridiculous 16% conversion rate, that has them outperforming their expected goals for by over 10 goals! So, while a lot of that is unsustainable, don’t expect Frankfurt to be the team that stops it – the Eagles have just 3 points in their last 6 matches and are sporting a 7 game winless streak and a new coach. In addition, Eintracht have also been bit by the injury bug, with Carlos Zambrano, Aleksandar Ignjovski, Marc Stendera all out and Alex Meier doubtful. A repeat of the loss 5-1 at home to Gladbach in the Hinrunde would not be a surprise, as we are predicting a Gladbach win by at least 3 goals!
- Hannover host Cologne in the last of the early matches on Saturday, with their miserable 10 of 11 losing streak on the line. Hugo Almeida is finally back for the 96ers after his lengthy suspension, and will look to add to the team’s paltry 22 goals. While Cologne are not really in form either, with 5 pts in their last 6 matches, Hannover’s atrocious defense – last or bottom 3 in every single traditional and advanced stat suggests that Cologne should do well here. Effzeh averages 5 shots on target per game – 7th best in the league, ahead of Schalke and Mainz, and the creativity of Risse, and Jonas Hector (despite struggling recently) – both are in the top 10 in key passes with over 40 each and Anthony Modeste’s goalscoring should be enough to pull off a win.
- The Topspiel of the day is Bayern hosting Werder in what used to be a marquee matchup, as Bayern look to bounce back against the recently improved visitors. Having already dropped 7 points in the Rückrunde – FCB cannot afford to waste any more, with Dortmund breathing down their neck. Werder is coming off back-to-back 4 game wins and 2016 has been the year of Claudio Pizarro, as the veteran Peruvian has already scored 9 goals in the Bundesliga + 2 more in the Cup to lead all scorers. All of these signs would point to a highly anticipated match, but reality is often anti-climactic. Unfortunately, the 37-year-old looks to miss this game with a muscle strain, while Zlatko Junuzovic and Clemens Fritz both intentionally got themselves suspended, and Fin Bartels has a cold of some sorts. Werder is throwing the kids – László Kleinheisler, Levin Öztunali, Milos Veljkovic and Florian Grillitsch straight to the big bad wolf, in what looks like a throwaway game. Despite already scoring 8 goals in 2016, Robert Lewandowski has been quiet by his lofty standard, as the Polish striker got shut out by Mainz and Dortmund. If Pep Guardiola does not end up resting a lot of his players ahead of Wednesday’s UCL clash vs Juventus, this could be one of those games for Lewandowski, where his goals come in bundles.
- Leverkusen meet Hamburger SV in the Bruno Labbadia bowl to kick off the Sunday matches. Roger Schmidt is finally back from his suspension, and he will be relieved to get Chicharito and Kießling back from injury and suspension. Jonathan Tah and Ömer Toprak could both be back to form that deadly partnership that has been so effective for the Werkself this season. Despite the miracle comeback against Augsburg, that avoided a 4th consecutive defeat, Leverkusen have only taken 5 points in 6 matches and will need to improve against a decent HSV side. Emir Spahic is suspended for the visitors, who impressed versus Hertha last week in a convincing 2-0 win. A surprising away win could see HSV get as close as 2 points to Leverkusen,but our pick is to go for a draw with over 2 goals in the match.
- Dortmund vs Mainz is the derby of the weekend, as two of the hottest teams face off in the Signal Iduna Park. Borussia have taken 14 points in 6 matches along with the souls of Tottenham on Thursday and have only conceded 1 goal in those 7 matches. Former Mainz manager Thomas Tuchel will take on his protégé in Martin Schmidt, who looks to cook up something to overcome his mentor. Resting Mkhitaryan and most of the defense will probably give Mainz an excellent opportunity to counter quickly with Malli, Samperio and Cordoba going up against the likes of Neven Subotic, Sven Bender, with Erik Durm and Matthias Ginter lining up as fullbacks. Julian Weigl, and Nuri Sahin might also be in for a rude awakening against the tackling machines in Julian Baumgartliner and Danny Latza. The verdict: Mainz look likely to take a point here versus a makeshift Dortmund lineup.
- 26, 20, 21, 26, 17, 21 ,30, 30 – these are the goal totals from the first 8 rounds of the Rückrunde for an average of 23.75 goals per matchday. The mad Englishe Woche brought Bundesliga fans around the globe 60 goals, and gives us hope that Matchday 26 will bring at least 26 goals!
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