The last five games are upon as in the Bundesliga, after a rollercoaster of a European cup week that saw Wolfsburg lose the battle and the war and Julian Draxler in Madrid, Bayern fight back to persevere in Lisbon and Dortmund dominate early only to collapse in epic fashion in Liverpool. So it appears that Thomas Tuchel’s decision to rest his players in last weekend’s Revierderby has backfired, as Dortmund conceded the title in hopes of focusing on the Europa League.
There’s still a lot to play for – namely the European spots and third place with five teams (Hertha at 49pts, Leverkusen at 48, Gladbach, Mainz, Schalke on 45) all separated by four points. In the bottom of the table, there is similarly a mob of six teams within six points of each other Stuttgart – 33pts, Darmstadt – 32, Hoffenheim – 31, Augsburg – 30, Werder -28 and Eintracht – 27.
As usual, we will examine all 9 fixtures, some in more detail than others and make 10 wild predictions that will probably fizzle out like the European dreams of die Wölfe and BVB. (Although I do want to note that last week we called Ingolstadt winning over BMG, Wolfsburg-Mainz as a draw, Bayern over Stuttgart, Hoffenheim winning in Frankfurt, the Julian Brandt show continuing in Cologne, 4 goals and a defender [Ginter] scoring in the Revierderby and even Darmstadt defender Aytac Sulu notching yet another goal against Hamburg).
Hannover are somehow again playing on Friday night, this time against Mönchengladbach and while last week’s match against Hertha was surprisingly fun and entertaining, perhaps the Bundesliga scheduling overlords should not be pressing their luck so soon. Speaking of Hertha, it was the Berlin club that the visitors last defeated away from Borussia Park, in OCTOBER! The Foals are 16th in the away table rankings with just 11 points from 14 matches, compared to 34 in 14 at home. While there are no moral victories, it’s worth noting that 5 of those last 6 defeats on the road came by a one goal margin.
Fortunately for Foals fans, Hannover are sporting a seven game home losing streak and have somehow picked up a paltry 6 points in 14 home games. Hannover have scored the fewest goals in the league this season, with just 24, but conceded the third most with 54, for a ten goal lead in goal differential with minus 30.
On the other hand, Gladbach have had the 3rd best offense, as the Foals scored 59 times. Having the 5th most goals allowed with 45 has been a real problem, exacerbated by 29 shipped goals away from Borussia Park. Long story short: if this game is not the definition of the phrase ‘something has got to give’ then I do not know what is.
It will also be a reunion for Gladbach star Lars Stindl, “the poor man’s Thomas Müller,” who joined the Foals from die Roten over the summer. Gladbach are expected to be boosted by the return of all-around wizard Raffael, but will be without all-around midfield maniac Granit Xhaka, who to nobody’s surprise is suspended once again.
But hey, at least it’s only because of his fifth yellow of the season, so it won’t last 3 games as his usual red cards have done. Havard Nordveit will deputize for Xhaka, with the Norwegian reportedly joining West Ham over the summer. Hannover will hope that Manuel Schmiedebach can build on his great match against Hertha and that the Kiyotake, Sobiech, Karaman trio – responsible for 10 goals – can give the HDI Arena crowd something to cheer about.
However, Gladbach are a better team and have beaten Hannover 6 of their last 7 matches, and at the risk of reverse jinxing them we are taking Gladbach to win by one goal on the road.
Cheer up, Max!
Hoffenheim vs. Hertha Berlin
An intriguing matchup of this year’s miracle team visiting the surging TSG 1899, who under Julian Nagelsmann have been on a tear. With 17 points from 9 matches since taking over on February 11th, the 28-year-old has catapulted Hoffenheim to the 3rd best record in the Bundesliga over that span.
Hertha have been analyzed extensively and their recipe for a miracle season has looked something like this: hit on a club legend turned youth coach manager, have another club legend turned sporting director nail 4-5 bargain basement free agents every offseason (2015: Darida, Weiser, Stark, Ibisevic; 2014: Kalou, Haraguchi, Plattenhardt, Skjelbred), get a 29-year-old career backup to give you a season for ages in goal, wrangle 21 goals on 28 and 17% conversion rates from two over the hill, over 30 strikers in Kalou and Ibisevic … and despite the fewest shots in the league and ranking bottom five in every advanced shot metric, just exceed the XG models by 15 goals thanks to a +5 point net conversion rate luck. Seems easy, right Leicester City?
The Berlin team, which won the fall matchup thanks to a Polanski own goal will get American defender John Anthony Brooks back, but will miss right back Mitchell Weiser due to suspension. Superhero Vedad Ibisevic is expected to play after a facial fracture in last week’s match. Injuries (Bicakcic, Schwegler) and suspensions (Rudy) will limit the home team, but the Uth, Kramaric, Volland trio is sure to cause Hertha some headaches. The midfield battle between the Strobl, Ochs, Amiri and the Skjelbred, Lustenberger, Darida troika is another promising one as well. Salomon Kalou will score another away goal, but this one will end in a draw, as the Nagelsmann-mania continues to sweep the nation.
Darmstadt vs Ingolstadt
First , can everyone please take it easy with the “Ingolstadt can secure their place” narrative? Yes, I’m talking to you Bundesliga.com! That’s insulting to the fifth best team in the Rückrunde, as die Schänzer have taken 19 points from twelve games, just 1 fewer than in the entire Hinrunde.
They have already surpassed their measly eleven goals with 16 now, without sacrificing anything on the defensive end, conceding at just a shade over one goal per match. Both of FCI’s central defender pairing of Benjamin Hübner and Marvin Matip should be strong candidates for one of the Bundesliga team of the season spots, while Danny Da Costa and Robert Bauer have improved tremendously and are contributing on offense as well. Roger and Pascal Groß are still awesome, with the latter actually creating 3.06 key passes per 90, up from 2.83 in the fall.
Excising Alfredo Morales, one of the worst midfielders in the Hinrunde has helped, with Max Christiansen contributing in 536 minutes (as opposed to 298). Removing Lukas Hinterseer from the center forward position, and replacing him with the nuisance known as Dario Lezcano, winning 10.4 duels per match – the fifth best mark in the league since his winter transfer, was a brilliant move that resulted in the following: Hinterseer has scored once in 13 center forward appearances, and five times in the eleven other times he lined up on either wing or was used as a sub.
It also meant fewer minutes for the combative Australian Matthew Leckie, who will often get subbed off for Hinterseer. The law firm of Hartmann and Hinterseer have scored nine times in the Rückrunde, compared to just four in the Hinrunde despite 1000 fewer minutes of combined playing time! Hartmann doubled his goals per 90 from 0.33 to 0.6, while Hinterseer is riding the mother of all hot streaks, seeing his goals per 90 go from a minuscule 0.08 to 1.14 – a number that is better than every single forward in Europe’s big five leagues with the exception of Karim Benzema’s 1.16 for Real and Zlatan’s 1.27 for PSG this season…
Darmstadt are riding high after beating HSV and pushing their unbeaten run to five games, thanks to some Aytac Sulu heroics, but will sadly play at home – where they are the second worst team in the league, grabbing 9 points out of 14 matches. Since both of these clubs abhor possession, the game should come down to dead ball situations, where Groß excels at delivering, while Sulu and Wagner are two of the reason why the Lilies have netted 16 times already from set pieces. The Sandro Wagner vs Matip/Hübner battle will be monumental in the outcome of this one, and while Ingolstadt’s away form has been concerning (winless in 11) they should pull this one out. Take the under on 2.5 goals.
Augsburg vs. Stuttgart
Saturday’s match features a battle of neighbours in the South and at the bottom of the table. Both of these squads are coming into the match in terrible form, FCA finally ended their six game winless streak by beating Bremen, thanks to a late goal, while Stuttgart have gathered just eight points out of their last six fixtures. The goals have kept coming with eleven in those six and 46 overall, thanks to Filip Kostic, Daniel Didavi and Lukas Rupp. While the initial returns on Jürgen Kramny’s appointment were glorious and many had hoped for a Europa League push, the manager’s inability to fix a league-worst defense – 59 goals allowed, including 28 in 16 under the new coach – has torpedoed those efforts.
They are probably safe from relegation, but with a squad missing Dié, Großkreutz and two potential young unproven center backs competing for playing time in the disastrous Timo Baumgartl and the 22-year-old Serie A transfer Federico Barba, expect some Augsburg goals. Ja-Cheol Koo, returning from suspension has quietly scored 5 of his 8 goals in the Rückrunde and is our pick to net again in a draw.
Werder Bremen vs. VfL Wolfsburg
Bremen entertain a gutted Wolfsburg side in the green and white battle of the weekend. After losing the Champions League quarterfinal in Madrid, the Wolves also found out that Julian Draxler will also face a lengthy spell on the sidelines in what is now surely a lost season for them.
With a six point gap between them and 7th place Schalke, they have very little to play for, and given their miserable away form, I would not expect too much out of them. André Schürrle’s recent form, Bas Dost returning and Werder being terrible at home, plus missing Papy Djilobodji should all help, but a repeat of the 6-0 win in the Hinrunde is highly unlikely. Especially, so since Claudio Pizarro, the Werder savior is fit again and should add to his Rückrunde high ten goals in Dante’s absence. A 2-2 draw seems like a fine way to settle this matter, with both Pizarro and Schürrle finding the back of the net.
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Eintracht Frankfurt
Frankfurt are visiting the scorching Leverkusen in a Mexican showdown between Marco Fabián and Javier Chicharito Hernandez. Eintracht, for a lot of reasons, including an awful goalkeeper, a shaky backline, and the winter signings (Huszti, Fabián a combined three assists and one goal) and most of all the injury to Alex Meier have been the disappointment of the Rückrunde, taking just ten points in twelve matches, with just eight goals (five by Meier) scored.
The coaching change has done little to change and die Adler, with Mainz, Darmstadt and BVB coming up before a matchday 34 showdown with Bremen are a lock for at least the relegation playoff spot. Niko Kovac’s appointment has done very little, 31 shots and just one goal in four games is nothing to be proud of. It’s hard to see Frankfurt with an exit plan.
Leverkusen have taken 13 points, the same as Bayern, from their last six matches, and despite myriad injuries are clicking thanks to a revitalized midfield engine of Karim Bellarabi, Hakan Calhanoglu duo that has been turbocharged by Julian Brandt’s emergence and Chicharito’s return. That quartet has netted seven times in that six game span along with racking up 33 key passes and 5 assists. Noticeably absent from that group is veteran striker and aerial master Stefan Kießling, who has only played 144 minutes in the last two months, and as much as it pains Bundesliga fans to hear this, one has to admit that the team has looked quicker and more productive without him. The verdict? Die Werkself triumph by at least two goals.
Bayern vs. Schalke
Understandably, the Topspiel of the weekend. The Bavarians survived a Benfica scare and are now seven points clear of Dortmund, thanks to the visiting team from Gelsenkirchen. They will miss Xabi Alonso due to suspension and Kingsley Coman’s thigh injury will sideline the young speedster. Robert Lewandowski’s strange car crash punishment might lead to some playing time for Mario Götze. Bayern are undefeated in eleven games straight against Schalke and could, after seeing the Revierderby success of BVB, frankly field a B squad that is much stronger than Dortmund’s, and that would still crush the visitors.
Schalke will need all three points if they are to get to the Champions League, and their talent level has never been the question. Unfortunately, immaturity and Breitenreiter’s inability to figure out a consisent lineup has derailed this season after winning 16 points from their first seven matches.
Since then, the Royal Blues have been a mediocre team with 29 points from 22 games a la the Di Matteo sides. It is quite frankly not good enough for a team with this much money to have a zero total shot differential and a negative shots on target ratio.They will hope that Leroy Sané and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar have more than one good game in them, or that the Belhanda-Schöpf duo can conjure up some magic, but it’s more likely that Ralf Fährmann, who has had to make 36 saves in the Rückrunde – tied for the third most – will need to improve on his already impressive 73% save percentage – the fifth best rating – to get a result. The more realistic outcome and our prediction is a comfortable two goal Bayern win.
Borussia Dortmund vs. Hamburg SV
Dortmund will look to rebound from a collapse of epic proportions and Thomas Tuchel should perhaps put in a call to Carlo Ancelotti, who witnessed a similar comeback, albeit on a grander scale, when his Milan team lost despite a 3-0 half time lead in Istanbul to Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League final. As a Milan fan, who may or may not have popped open a bottle of champagne/beer when Hernan Crespo made it three-nil, I can certainly empathize with the BVB manager’s shell-shock. Regardless, in the business of modern football, life certainly goes on and BVB can take revenge on HSV for their 3-1 win from the Hinrunde. Christian Pulisic, Adrian Ramos, Erik Durm and poor Matze Ginter are all likely to start.
Hamburg can thank their opponents’ ineptitude that somehow sees them in tenth place, despite a miserable campaign that nobody – aside from Nicolai Müller fans , and Thomas Tuchel, his former manager at Mainz is probably one of those fans – has been satisfied with. It looks like their 4th forward option Sven Schipplock has grabbed the mantle, with Ilicevic and Austrian cannonballer Michael Gregoritsch on the two wings. Dortmund should still have enough to pull this out, especially if they send in 3-4 of their best players as substitutes, so take BVB to win 2-1 over HSV.
Mainz 05 vs. 1. FC Köln
In the battle of two of the best German young goalkeepers, Loris Karius’ Mainz takes on Timo Horn’s Cologne in the last Sunday match of Matchday 30. Mainz, perhaps the second best surprise story after Hertha are right smack in the middle of the Champions League race and if Hertha or Gladbach slip up in Hoffenheim or Hannover and Schalke get their expected loss in Munich could emerge as the big winners of the weekend. This edition of Mainz feature an incredibly deep team fwith six quality defenders and six players with already two or more goals in the Rückrunde,
Martin Schmidt’s crew should be the prohibitive favorites in this match. This is especially true if we take into account that Cologne are the third worst team of the spring season ten points and eleven goals from twelve games. Never a high-scoring team, with 29 goals in 29 games, their over reliance on Anthony Modeste and their Bundesliga low 22% shooting accuracy – I realize that these two points are related – have come back to haunt them. The big Frenchman still takes heaps of shots, but has scored only four times, compared to his seven in the Hinrunde, and Simon Zoller’s injury and Leo Bittencourt’s inconsistency and immaturity have often resulted in wasting all of the chances created by their excellent wide players, Jonas Hector and Marcel Risse. Recent form suggests that FSV will take this by one goal.
Because it’s Matchday 30, we’ll see over 30 goals.