Whew! We are still catching our breath after that remarkable Bayern comeback against Juventus in Wednesday’s Champions League, but it’s Thursday and the Europa League is upon Leverkusen and Dortmund (who will get to play on Sunday against Stuttgart and Augsburg respectively), as die Werkself looks to overturn a two goal deficit against Villarreal at home, while a diet BvB team should get out of London, as Tottenham are putting their B team out there once again. We start out predictions with the marquee matchup of the weekend on Friday in Gelsenkirchen, where Schalke entertain Gladbach. You can read a longer preview of this exciting clash with vital Champions League implications here. 1. The tldr version is a high-scoring draw at two goals apiece.
2.The first of five early games on Saturday sees Wolfsburg hosting Darmstadt in a matchup of two dazed and confused teams. Wolfsburg appeared to have the flipped the script on the season with ten points in five games and getting through to the last 8 of the UCL, until Hoffenheim defeated them 1-0 last week. Despite having a 15-11 shot advantage, and forcing Oliver Baumann into 9 saves and landing him on our team of the week, die Wölfe looked flat and lacked concentration. Max Kruse had a horrific game with just 30 touches and was substituted after 59 minutes. His bad touch in midfield resulted in the opening goal for Andrej Kramaric on just three minutes. Perhaps he has a personal distaste for Hoffenheim’s existence (and to be honest it would be hard to blame him, given TSV’s “history”), but he made headlines this week for winning 60k pounds at poker after the Hinrunde match only to somehow leave the money in a cab and to get fined 20k pounds by the club for doing so. The former Gladbach striker wasn’t the only VfL player to make the headlines, as
Nicklas LORD Bendtner was 45 minutes late to training and was promptly fined. Perhaps it is a coincidence, but those two have combined to score just 8 goals this season (6+2), exactly one more than Bas Dost who has been injured since January. The talent of guys like Julian Draxler (looking like Kaka against Gent, but MIA vs good teams) or Andre Schürrle (probably two good games all season, with his hat-trick accounting for 75% of his 4 goals) has never been the problem, but one has to question the intangibles of club atmosphere, leadership (how is that extension looking for last year’s coach of the year, Dieter Hecking?) and mentality.
Darmstadt, winless in a season worst six games, are struggling for different reasons. With 37% possession, 55% pass success (the next worst team is Ingolstadt at 64%) a plethora of long balls and 69 yellow cards (most in the league) this team is genuinely difficult to watch. They lack the talent – after all this team was basically relegated from the THIRD division and stayed up due to a withdrawal, and if it were not for a miraculous 10 goal season from Sandro, our true LORD, Wagner this team would be right down there with Hannover. A whopping 14 of their 27 goals have come from set pieces, with Aytac Sulu – 6 goals, all away from home by the center back – and Wagner (6.7 aerials won – 3rd most in the league) dominating in the air. Marcel Heller’s 6 goals all came in the Hinrunde and SV98 could definitely use them in this one. Their recent problems have been on the defensive end, with 11 goals conceded in the last 6 matches. Now, granted 5 of those were against Bayern and Dortmund, but last week’s squandering of a 2-0 lead against Augsburg in a relegation six-pointer was inexcusable. With Hoffenheim taking 10 pts from their last 6 games, compared to Darmstadt’s 3, the gap is now just 3 points. Wolfsburg’s tendency to do dumb stuff and their stellar away record – 19 pts from 13 games are reasons for optimism. Wolfsburg, however are unbeaten in 33 of their last 35 matches and should take this one by 2 goals, ensuring that Darmstadt will get even closer to the drop.
3. With the appoinment of 28-year-old coaching prodigy Julian Nagelsmann Hoffenheim have begun their great escape, although one wonders why they named him as the head coach, before reversing course and opting for Huub Stevens after Markus Gisdol was let go in October. A visit to Hamburg shouldn’t be an improbable task, that is until you look and see Hoffenheim as the worst away team with just 7 points from 13 matches, including 0 for their last 9. If they want to avoid that streak ballooning to ten games the Sinsheimers will need to keep scoring – something they have been doing for all of the 6 games under Nagelsmann. The good news is that Mark Uth and Andrej Kramaric (the winter acquisition from Leicester) have combined for 6 of their 7 goals this season in the last 5 games. The bad news is that their leading scorer and best player Kevin Volland (6g + 4 assists) has not been in the best of form under Nagelsmann – only 4 chances created in 6 matches and his pass accuracy has dropped to a measly 57%. As the main creative force, he is playing 64% of his passes forward, and should be doing better, now that he has two actual half-decent strikers ahead of him.
Hamburg will struggle to score, as they barely edge Hoffenheim 11 to 10.7 in terms of shots per game and that number will likely not improve with leading scorer Nico Müller suspended and Josip Drmic now out for the season. They begrudgingly turn to out of favor striker Pierre-Michel Lasogga – goalless since November! – to partner with Artjoms Rudnevs, who is quickly fading after starting 2 goals in his first 4 matches. That is terrible news for the team that creates the fewest danger zone passes and shots from established possession with just 5 in both categories, per Michael Caley’s advanced shot stats. If Michael Gregoritsch is able to play after being out since January, his free-kicks could be a real asset to die Rothosen. At any rate, a draw seems likely for our 3rd prediction.
4. Werder vs Mainz
A tale of two seasons comes to a test on Saturday at the Weserstadion as the disastrous Werder host cinderellas Mainz. Upon first look, this looks like an easy match for 6th place Mainz, a strong away team with 17 pts from 13 games against a lousy home team (10pts in 12 games) in relegation threatened Werder. After all, Mainz famously slayed Bayern, just 2 weeks ago, who then promptly destroyed Bremen 5-0 last weekend.
On further inspection (see table above) we actually see two statistically similar teams: Werder actually have the edge in total shot ratio (the ratio of how many shots they take versus total shots), overall shots (331 to Mainz’s 274) and they allow fewer shots (356 to Mainz’s 380). While Mainz do a great job of not allowing that huge number of shots to hit the target, as you can see from the identical -31 SOT plus minus, it’s not like they have a statiscally superior defense: the danger zone shots allowed are 123 to Werder’s 123 – this data is from last month, but it leads us to the elephant in the room. Goalkeeping! The FOURTEEN percentage point difference between Felix Wiedwald and Loris Karius is enormous, and while save % isn’t always the best way of judging a netminder, such a gulf is undoubtedly proof in quality. If Werder had a league avg. of 69% in this stat, they would perhaps comfortable be a mid-table squad. The 8 point gap between conversion rates for and against (+4 for Mainz, -4.3 for Werder) is basically saying that Mainz have Bayern level skill (or luck) in finishing and defending, while Werder, yet to keep a clean sheet this year, are akin to the disaster that has been Stuttgart’s defense. Could it be that the 13 point difference between two teams, one competing for a European spot, the other clawing its way out of the relegation zone, is actually due in large part to conversion rate variance and goalkeepers?
Some more good news for Werder: former Mainz striker Anthony Ujah scored 2 goals in just 4 minutes, as part of 3 goals in 9 minutes eruption in deciding the Hinrunde match. If Pizarro is unable to go, due to his groin injury, Ujah, who seems to do better without the Peruvian (only 2 of his 9 goals have come in games where Pizarrinha has netted as well) could again be a thorn in die Nullfünfer’s side. The 37-year-old has a 12 wins from 15 matches record against FSV, another great sign for the Green and Whites who have taken 7 points in their last 3 meetings against the Nullfünfer. Our prediction for this match is therefore some much-needed Werder points.
5. Cologne host Bayern and there might just be a hint of friskiness on the part of the Billy Goats. Despite losing 3 of their last 4 games, Peter Stöger’s men were incredibly unlucky not to get points against Schalke (outshooting the Royal Blues) and Hertha (a blown call on a Skjelbred handball in the box). The argument for a Cologne win would rely on a combination of Anthony Modeste’s 11 goals, Jonas Hector and Marcell Risse both being among the Bundesliga’s top 10 key passers and Leonardo Bittencourt’s 3 goals in the last 2 games. Timo Horn is 3rd in the league with his 75.6% save percentage. Pep Guardiola might also contribute by resting some of his players, as there are talks of Mario Götze getting a long-awaited start upfront in place of Robert Lewandowski – music to Cologne fans’ ears!
Pessimists would be quick to mention that they have won just 2 of their last 9 games, beating two of the worst teams in Frankfurt and Hannover. An 8.1 conversion rate only trails Ingolstadt’s woeful attack, while the 21% shooting percentage is even worse than that of FCI, which doesn’t help when Bayern lead the league with a 79 save % and a 7.6 conversion rate against. They can’t even count on Bayern’s European fatigue, as the Bavarians have been 7 of 7 in Bundesliga fixtures after UCL games this season.
Count us among the pessimists and go with a Bayern win, with a Kingsley (Juve slayer) Coman assist.
6.Hertha vs Ingolstadt – where shots and goals will be in short supply – but good coaching and hard-nosed football will not!
We have extolled the virtues of Pál Dárdai , but Ralph Hasenhüttl deserves an equal amount of credit for getting this much out of a limited Ingolstadt side. The Austrian managerial recipe goes something like this: Take a heaping pile of manic pressing by running your wingers (Matthew Leckie and Moritz Hartmann) into the ground and at opposition defenders, have a solid center mid (Roger who gets fouled over 3 times a game – the highest in the league), mix in a couple of towering centerbacks who win every ball in the air (combined 9.5 out of Ingolstadt’s 33/gm – 5 more than Darmstadt!) and block a ton of shots. Add in some solid goalkeeping, and basically try to score from Pascal Groß’s set pieces. Good forward play and goalscoring are optional.
If you’ve been paying attention and read the Hertha piece you probably noticed a lot of similarities between the teams. There is a similar story to that of Werder and Mainz here, in that die Schänzer are a better advanced stats teams than Hertha when it comes to shooting volume and shot ratio (all positives while Hertha are firmly under 50% in TSR and sport a -81 shot differential). Finishing chances has proved to be the biggest difference -20 goals by Kalou+Ibisevic, while Ingolstadt as a team have 22. A huge reason for that is Ingolstadt’s 7% conversion rate, which is exactly half of Hertha’s 14%, not to mention Kalou’s absurd 29%. That 7% includes last week’s 3 goal outburst against Stuttgart, by the way.
With Benjamin Hübner suspended and Ingolstadt winless in their last 8 away matches (after starting with 3 straight victories on the road) it’s hard to see them get much more than a point in Berlin. The prediction – Hertha wins 1-0.
7. Eintracht – Hannover – Topspiel?
Much like Donald Trump’s presidential run, we’re all hoping that this is just a bad dream that we’re about to wake up from any minute now. 6 points combined between the 2 teams in 12 games with 5 scored and 22 conceded, that is what we have to look forward.
Alex Meier is still absent for the Eagles, along with his 12 goals. Haris Seferovic, who is without a goal since November will start with Stendera, Marco Fabian and Stefan Aigner expected to provide service. I still don’t understand why former Hannover star Szabolcs Huszti is not starting recently, despite creating 2.73 chances per 90 minutes for a team struggling to generate offense. His 22 total chances created are superior to Aigner (20 in 1820 minutes) who has replaced him in the starting lineup. Those 2.73 chances created per 90 minutes put him behind just Alex Maxim, Hakan Calhanoglu and Pascal Groß in the Bundesliga. Perhaps someone should point this out to Niko Kovac.
The less said about the miserable Hannover the better, instead we recommend the excellent Talking Fussball Extra podcast that dealt with the club in its recent episode here.
who cares goalless draw
8. Stuttgart vs Leverkusen on the other hand has a real good shot at being the game of the week, but given the consistent inconsistency of both of these teams, it also has probably an equally good chance of being a dull game. Bayer are out of Europe and might be running out of ideas, with Roger Schmidt deploying Karim Bellarabi at right back, Hakan Calhanoglu as defensive midfielder. It’s no surprise that the RB Leipzig rumors have already started. You can read a great breakdown by Constantin Eckner of die Werkself’s struggles that could be amended with 4-5 other key points (injuries, Calhanoglu’s miserable shooting, Jonathan Tah quietly struggling in the Rückrunde, Bernd Leno not having the best of seasons, etc).
The high-powered attack of VfB will look to have a field day against a makeshift defense that will feature youth player Benjamin Henrichs going up against Filip Kostic who looks to continue his spring terror that has seen the Serbian create 27 chances, score 4 goals with 2 assists and 4 man of the match performances. Perhaps going with a speedy Bellarabi isn’t the worst idea, after all…
On the other side, I would write that Stuttgart will miss Kevin Großkreutz’s defense, but that would be an exaggeration, as the former Dortmund man has struggled since his winter transfer. The defense has slightly improved under Kramny, conceding 21 in 13 is better than 31 in 13, though in fairness it would have been hard to not improve over Zorniger. Look for Chicharito, who has been quiet in the Rückrunde, with just 4 goals due to suspension and injury, to get off the mark.
In fact, we are going bold and taking the Mexican star and the aforementioned Kostic to both score in this one for our 8th prediction!
Bundesliga fans everywhere would definitely take a replay of the 7 goal thriller from the Hinrunde and with a combined eleven players out for the two teams, it is certainly not unthinkable. 9. So, in addition, let’s take the over on 4 goals here! As a side note, could this be the game that costs Roger Schmidt his job, much like it cost Alex Zorniger his in the Hinrunde?
10. Dortmund – Augsburg
Last but not least, Dortmund feel like they must have done something to piss off the selection gods, as they were rewarded with a tie against Klopp’s Liverpool after dispatching the toughest team in the competition in Tottenham (albeit their B squad). Aubameyang, who had 3 goals in the 5-1 destruction of FCA in the Hinrunde is rounding into his devastating form again with two goals against Spurs on Thursday, might get a chance to overtake Robert Lewandowski, if the Pole is rested against Cologne. With a whopping 23 of 27 points in the Rückrunde Dortmund are the Bundesliga’s only unbeaten team and that should not change against Augsburg who have only taken 6 points from their last 6 are winless in 4 straight. Marco Reus, who is set to play his 200th Bundesliga game is a tasty bet to score, but it’s not Robin, but the Gabonese Batman that will find the back of the net.
Enjoy the games!
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