Previewing the Bundesliga’s MD 33 – with help from the NBA

Like Dirk Nowitzki’s career in the NBA, the Bundesliga turns to the final couple chapters in the 2015/16 season, and it’s safe to say that many clubs had different outcomes in mind when the Rückrunde began in January. Thanks to Transfermarkt, we can look at some cool tables that show the potential best and worst case scenarios prior to each Matchday. Here is where things stood at the time:

Hannover can win the league, ORLY?
Hannover can win the league, ORLY?

A clear top duo was followed by the surprising Hertha team in third followed by the improbable rise of Gladbach in the Schubert era. The three disappointed musketeers of Leverkusen, Schalke and Wolfsburg were barely ahead of the surprising Mainz, Cologne, Ingolstadt trio. Hamburg were enjoying relative success, given their propensity to hover around the 16th spot and to everyone’s surprise, Darmstadt was not the worst team in the league. Augsburg’s European forays were taking their toll, but FCA were always a second half of the season side, while Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Werder were the sad drunken-defending musketeers of the bottom. Hoffenheim and Hannover looked hopeless.

bulipossfin

That’s how the table looks prior to Matchday 32 with the title race still barely alive. The European places are all but decided, Cologne would have to beat Werder and Dortmund (which has been known to happen as recently has the Hinrunde) with Mainz losing to VfB and Hertha to vault into the seventh spot. The teams nine through eleven are just playing out the string, and even Augsburg and Hoffenheim – two of the five hottest teams in the last six matches, besides the top three – got a decent schedule and a big enough cushion to be safe. That leaves us with Darmstadt and Werder who are seemingly going in opposite directions. SV 98 looked to be one of the clear survivors with a couple of wins against HSV and Ingolstadt, but the losses to Cologne and Frankfurt, coupled with games against Hertha and Gladbach could see them finish with 35 points! Despite all of their misery this season, Werder are in the best shape of these four, as they controlled their destiny by trouncing VfB and probably won’t even have to win against Cologne or Frankfurt to stay clear of the playoff spot. That’s because Eintracht go up against the Dortmund death machine this Saturday before visiting Werder on Matchday 34. Stuttgart’s recent run of form – losing five of six – is hardly a cause for optimism, and their best hope is that neither Mainz, nor Wolfsburg care enough about their remaining fixtures. Bundesliga.com has created something – titled Relegation Red Alert, which is either a video about the potential outcomes, or a lost 1980s action movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Having gone through the possibilities, let’s look at all nine Saturday matchups by putting them into a few different categories in terms of their overall importance.  Given the appeal of basketball both worldwide and in the Bundesliga and with German players like Dirk Nowitzki becoming household names all over the world, it makes sense that we will be using a little help from the NBA. If you don’t like it, you can join Mats Hummels and “take your talents to” South Beach Bayern.

1.The Gregg Popovich would definitely rest 60% of his starters in this one

Schalke – Augsburg is the first of these, and Andre Breitenreiter is clearly on something the same page with me:

That’s just one of the 45 reasons why he will probably lose his job, ironically to former Unterhaching teammate and current FCA manager,  Markus Weinzierl , who is the favorite to take over the Royal Blues next year. Nothing says a lame duck coach sticking it to the incoming manager like starting Franco di Santo. Come on Andre!

This will also be the final home game for Joel Matip, who is off to Liverpool and sporting director Horst Heldt.

Do not despair Schalke fans, you at least have Bent and his music!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqt68oFhYRwjkVPJO7jf4VA

FCA are an in-form team that has finally found a striker in Alfred Finnbogason, who has taken over after Ja-Cheol Koo’s early heroics. Weinzierl’s side have taken the fifth most away points with 22, and are boosted by the return of Caiuby, who has already scored six times against Schalke, despite having plied his trade mostly in the zweite Liga. They will spoil the party and the narrative of the new coach denying Schalke the Champions League spot and millions of Euros is just too good to pass up. 1:1 it will end.

Gladbach – Leverkusen would be an awesome game with millions of storylines, as the high-flying home juggernaut of Borussia takes on die Werkself on a seven match winning streak.The Foals in their last five games at home have been obliterating teams with five wins and a goal difference of 22 to two! They have the Bundesliga’s second most effective offense statistically, needing just over 7 shots to produce a goal, per the Challengers podcast, with twelve players with three or more goals.

It could have been Raffael against Chicharito – two of the comeback players of the year! The Brazilian talks about his season in this excellent Bundesliga.com interview.

It could have been the battle of two 20-year-old wunderkinds: the fairytale story of Mo Dahoud‘s breakout season vs Julian Brandt’s who is now on a six game consecutive scoring streak and is threatening ancient records of Dieter Müller.

View post on imgur.com

It could have been an exciting matchup of two high quality wingers, Fabian Johnson (who is out) and Kimo Bellarabi (suspended), whose performances can make or break their teams respective seasons.

The who is the better young defender debate between Jonathan Tah (who will miss this game as he recovers from a stomach virus) and Andreas Christensen would have been put to the test.

The Roger Schmidt taking the mantle from Schubert at Paderborn would have also made for a nice story.

Instead it will probably be just a decent match, albeit with lots of goals, as Bernd Leno’s performance is bound to regress at some point, and a lethal Gladbach side should expose Leverkusen’s decimated defense without Tah, Wendell and Papadopoulos. Leverkusen scored five in the Hinrunde match, with Chicharito and Kießling running wild, and while Gladbach’s defense only allows a goal per match at home, they will probably concede a couple here. Take over three goals in this one, folks!

HSV – Wolfsburg – I can’t decide if this match should be automatically simulated, or shown to torture people. No Julian Draxler and no Nico Müller is not helping matters either. You know you have it bad, when your team is thinking about replacing your backup goalie (Drobny), who has been better than your first choice keeper (Adler) with the goalie of Darmstadt (Mathenia who has looked shaky). Your HSV, everyone!

I can’t even make any obvious Lord Bendtner vs. Lord Lasogga jokes anymore, so let’s just go with 0:0 and be done with it.

2. One team is definitely hitting the strip clubs before this one

Eintracht host Dortmund in a do or die battle for Frankfurt, which has won two games all of a sudden, albeit in really ugly fashion. A home win over what is likely to be another B squad from BVB could catapult the Eagles into a fantastic position ahead of their crucial fixture against Bremen next week. Haris Seferovic is suspended for Eintracht, while Dortmund will probably be without Gündogan – who dislocated his knee and will miss the Euros and Piszczek who missed training on Thursday and should start Christian Pulisic,Adrian Ramos and probably even Moritz Leitner/Nuri Sahin – especially with Weigl being suspended, their firepower off the bench – i.e. any one of the ARM trio – should still run circles around Frankfurt. Eintracht will have to somehow score – an insurmountable obstacle without Alex Meier and against a Dortmund side that has let in just eight goals so far this spring. The Pulisic feel good story could surely use another chapter, so let’s go with the American to score again!

Hertha – Darmstadt is a matchup of two teams out of sorts, with the home side winless in five and having gotten bounced out of the cup. Hertha, who are still enjoying a stunning season and could finish in fourth if Leverkusen do them a favor against Gladbach, are trying everything, including giving away free beer – over 4000 Liters of it! – to their fans. Their slump has unsurprisingly coincided with Rune Jarstein’s save percentage coming back to Earth, injuries to Brooks and Darida and goals from Ibisevic and Kalou drying up. Wait, so you are telling me that neither of your over 30 strikers couldn sustain a 25% conversation rate for a season?

On the other side of the ledger, the Lilies were looking good until they lost two silly games, one to Cologne in which Christian Mathenia forgot how to play goalkeeper, and the second one to Frankfurt, in which Sandro Wagner missed a 19th minute PK to put them up 2-0. That was the twelfth time Sv98 have dropped points after being ahead, a stat that will surely be brought up many times, if they get relegated. Still, with Hertha struggling so much recently and Darmstadt being one of the Bundesliga’s best away teams, I would expect the Lilies to get a point here at least with Sandro Wagner scoring in his homecoming match!

Stuttgart – Mainz – is relevant for the home team, as they look to rebound from an epic beating by Werder on Monday. On top of it, Emiliano Insua is serving a suspension and  Federico Barba, who scored two spectacular goals against Werder – unfortunately one of them into his own net – is expected to miss this one, but Kevin Großkreutz is back with some fighting words (via Reddit) 

“Let’s work our asses off – fighting – winning – no more excuses! I will give everything and try to get out of this SHIT. If that is not enough I would never leave a club in this situation, instead I would make it right again. I’m on fire”

While that’s some great motivation, it’s also Großkreutz’s single biggest contribution to his team since making the switch from Turkey – discounting the two goals he gave up by failing to mark Christian Schulz on two set pieces in the 2-1 loss to Hannover. Daniel Didavi might play after all, according to Kramny’s press conference on Friday. Lukas Rupp will be deployed in the CDM role, which has just been a sieve since Serey Die’s injury. He will try to protect a backline of Klein, Niedermeier, Schwaab and Großkreutz, for which I wish him the best of luck…

Mainz have also taken their foot off the pedal and are winless in four matches, as if to say no thanks to the Champions League. Martin Schmidt will also be without three defenders, in Bussmann (knee), Balogun and Hack – suspended. Their great depth in the back – Brosinki and Donati are more than capable fullbacks and Bell and Bungert are a solid CB pairing and Stuttgart not really having a real center forward should be enough. Given that VfB will likely attack to take all three points at home, FSV should be perfectly suited to exploit them on the counter, with players like Jairo – whose seven goals all came away from home – Yunus Malli, or Jhon Cordoba. They executed that gameplan to perfection against Bayern, so I’m sure they are licking their chops at a Stuttgart defense that has capitulated 69 times. A draw with over three goals sounds good here and keeps the relegation battle interesting!

3. Let me get my triple-double and pad my stats games

 Cologne – Werder is a fixture between to in-form squads, as the Billy Goats collected seven points from their last three games, one more than Werder. The visitors’ win against Stuttgart was massive, not only because they jumped their direct relegation competitor, but did so by adding four goals to their goal difference, which at -16 is five better than VfB’s -21. They also control their own destiny by playing Frankfurt on Matchday 34, who is unlikely to pick up more than a point against Dortmund and with the Eagles on -18 goal difference, a draw could be enough to earn at least a playoff spot for the Green Whites. The home team have an outside shot at Europe, but in reality have little to play for. Anthony Modeste will probably pad his scoring stats against a miserable Werder defense, that will once again fail to keep a clean sheet.

4. Can we get on a banana boat already?

Ingolstadt – Bayern is a game that neither team is probably all that excited about. FCI are losing their coach Ralph Hasenhüttl to RB Leipzig and can’t finish higher than 8th, which is an amazing accomplishment given their history and squad. Bayern have lost the UCL to Atletico and are of course also losing Pep Guardiola to Manchester City, but can win the title with a victory at Audi Sportpark. Expect them to do just that.

5. Permanent NBA TV status

Hannover – Hoffenheim will see one team who made a belated (the bizarre Huub Stevens era) managerial switch and has gone supernova (Hoffenheim) against one that made that same change ten matches too late – why on Earth was Thomas Schaaf hired? While Daniel Stendel finally got a two-year contract at the 96ers, it will be to bring the team back to the Bundesliga, as the core of the squad (Zieler, Sane, Schmiedebach, Kiyotake) is expected to be picked apart.

The Nagelsmann era has been sufficiently analyzed in several places, but the confidence of players like Mark Uth and Andrej Kramaric and a revitalized Kevin Volland has turned the Sinnsheim club into a scary attacking unit. The midfield has undergone a makeover with Philipp Ochs and Nadiem Amiri – at a combined 37 years of age – and the team looks lively in transition play. Defensively, Niklas Süle has had an excellent season and is deservedly a candidate to replace Mats Hummels at Dortmund, while Oliver Baumann has been among the three best goalies in the Rückrunde.RRgoalies

Take Hoffenheim to grab all three points!

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Abel started out watching and playing soccer in Hungary, before falling in love with the Bundesliga in the mid -90s (thanks to Kicker and Sat1's Ran). Now, he's in the USA -- and still loving it all many years later. Abel is faithful to BVB, but also endlessly fascinated by the emergence of new teams and talents from Germany, to the point that he even started a website about it, at www.bundespremierleague.com. Otherwise, you can find him working in publishing, teaching ESL, and/or drinking craft beer - not necessarily at the same time, or in that order. Abel tweets at @VanbastenESL and @BundesPL

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