The final international break of 2017 is upon us and will leave all teams with time to assess before the final five-game stint of a busy year. However, before some rest and recuperation come several battles between the league’s top sides and those who are aiming to do much better. It could be said about any weekend, but this time it feels genuine; it could be pivotal.
SV Sandhausen – MSV Duisburg (Friday 17:30)
After another impressive start to the season, things seem to be slowly slipping for Kenan Kocak’s Sandhausen. Still just four points from third, the Hardtwaldstadion side have dropped four points in the last two weeks from goals in the final 10 minutes. They are aiming to grab a first win in four on Friday evening and it could be a case of returning to their back three, that has served them so well, to get back to winning ways. Sandhausen are missing Lucas Holer up front at the moment, though Richie-Sakuta Pasu’s strike against Furth will give them hope that this is where they get back on track.
The Zebras earned a hard-fought draw against Union Berlin last weekend, an important result given the positive showings of those around them. Ilia Gruev’s men look to have finally broken out of that run of rotten luck and loses, and surely fancy their chances of continuing that form against an indifferent Sandhausen. Enis Hajri is back from suspension but faces a battle with Andreas Wiegel for the starting spot at right-back, after the latter did well against Union. That could be the only change for a very settled Duisburg side.
1. FC Kaiserslautern – VfL Bochum (Friday 17:30, FOX Soccer Match Pass)
The Red Devils have found things tough going after Jeff Strasser’s initial charge when he was appointed head coach. Now, the Luxembourg national is tasked with turning things around before they get cut adrift at the bottom. After a series of results went the way of their closest rivals, Kaiserslautern are six points from safety and five behind Heidenheim in 16th. A disappointing 3-1 loss in Regensburg certainly didn’t do any favours, making a good run to the international break even more important. It’s likely there will be some changes to the line-up after their busy week last time out.
Even though Jens Rasiejewski has taken just four points from his four games in charge, there are positive signs in Bochum. The defence showed real resilience against Fortuna, though the issue of finding the back of the net is still prevalent. While there was a case for a penalty and the ball crossing the goal-line, a draw was a fair result during Monday’s meeting with the table toppers. Lukas Hinterseer was sent-off and will miss out but there are hopes that Robbie Kruse could make a timely return from injury to return in his place.
Eintracht Braunschweig – SV Darmstadt 98 (Saturday 12:00, FOX Soccer Match Pass)
A match between two of the league’s favourites for promotion sees them sitting in 1oth and 11th respectively. Braunschweig have turned things around in recent weeks, but the pressure to perform to last season’s levels still rest heavy on their shoulders. That has been made much more difficult in the absence of several key players, notably Christoffer Nyman. Quirin Moll is the latest name to be added to the injury list, in what is a very testing time for Torsten Lieberknecht. Despite all that, they’ll be hoping to make it three wins in four home games this weekend.
Darmstadt have also found things tough going but, like Braunschweig, are just six points behind third and hold hopes of making an immediate return to the Bundesliga. Darmstadt have not had any problems going forward this year, and it is in defence that the Lilies have surprisingly struggled. Hamit Altintop is suspended and Felix Platte has a muscle problem to increase the list of absentees. It’s now six games without a win, and Torsten Frings is feeling the same heat as his opposite number. Three points in Braunschweig would be the perfect tonic to get their season back on track.
Union were left slightly disappointed by dropping two points away to Duisburg so late on, though tiredness in the legs might well have been a factor after a tough Pokal week. That said, the Berliners are one of the league’s most in-form teams and will certainly be out to prove a point against a promotion rival. They have no injury concerns after a busy seven days, which is a further boost to the fit and firing Union. Last week aside, Sebastian Polter is looking more and more like the player he was last season. That alone is enough to cause angst in the division’s defences.
As much as travelling to Union is one of the most difficult trips in the season, St. Pauli will be raring to go. They’re taken 13 points from 18 on the road this year, compared to just six at the Millerntor. The game would likely have been a better spectacle had FCSP not been counting on so many players being out injured, yet there is every possibility that it will be one to remember. The major boost is the return of Aziz Bouhaddouz, which could see Olaf Janßen think about a return to 4-4-2. A win is what they want, and would move St. Pauli level on points with Saturday’s hosts.
Jahn Regensburg – SpVgg Greuther Fürth (Saturday 12:00)
One of many people’s favourites to struggle this season, Jahn are keeping their heads above water after 12 Matchdays. They may sit in 15th with a two-point gap to the automatic relegation places, yet Achim Beierlorzer can be proud of what they have achieved. Even recently, that has come without star man, Jann George. He may well be fit again to face his former club on Saturday but Sebastian Stolze has taken the headlines in recent weeks. The Wolfsburg loanee is showing promise anywhere on the right-flank, which may mean George has to settle for a spot on the left.
The Shamrocks have also been on a promising run of late, having picked up two wins in their last three games. The position might well be perilous but the change to a 3-4-2-1 seems to have worked a treat for Damir Buric. The Croat had fellow countryman, Mario Maloca to thank for a late winner against Sandhausen and it seems like the Fürth back three are enjoying the change. They will, however, be without Maximilian Wittek due to suspension as they make the short trip across Franconia, otherwise it’s very much as they were the last weekend.
Fortuna Düsseldorf – 1. FC Heidenheim (Sunday 12:30, FOX Soccer Match Pass)
Even though Bochum brought their five-match winning run to an end, Fortuna maintained their place as the pace-setters. The lack of Oliver Fink seemed to tell as Friedhelm Funkel’s men lack some of that cutting edge in attacking areas. Benito Raman is likely to return after Takashi Usami failed to impress on Monday, and that aside the line-up should pick itself. F95 were another side coming in off the back of a Pokal tie and that probably told in Bochum, and a six-day period between that and this game should see them in peak condition once more.
It’s been tough going for Frank Schmidt and Heidenheim this year, especially given their reputation as a side that always starts well. There does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel after DFB-Pokal progression and a fantastic win over Nürnberg, and the club seem back to their old selves. It’s unlikely that Schmidt will make any changes to the line-up whatsoever, yet they are hoping to convert more chances. Thorsten Kirschbaum proved a worthy adversary, and Raphael Wolf will be no easier, though Robert Glatzel should be full of confidence following his goal.
Erzgebirge Aue – Arminia Bielefeld (Sunday 12:30)
Four wins, a draw and three loses – it’s been a truly mixed bag for Hannes Drews’ time in charge of Aue thus far. The only real disappointment so far was the defeat to Fürth, and the Violets can count themselves comfortably in mid-table. While they are just five points off promotion, survival is almost undoubtedly the first and most important aim this season. Despite the solid platform, Pascal Köpke’s form seems to have disappeared of late and a strike from him would be most welcome before the international break around the corner.
After topping the table early on in the season, that now seems like a distant memory for Jeff Saibene. Although they are in a much, much better position than last year, three defeats in a row is cause for concern on the Bielefelder Alm. A lack of goals seems to be the main issue. Arminia only scored less than two goals three times in their opening nine games. That has doubled over this losing stretch. Only Andreas Voglsammer has scored more than twice and, while they have spread the burden around, some assistance could prove the difference on Sunday.
Holstein Kiel – Dynamo Dresden (Sunday 12:30, FOX Soccer Match Pass)
The Storks may have had their wings clipped by Darmstadt, and missed the chance to close the gap to Fortuna to a single point, but they can be proud after a tough week. To come away having been the better side and most players having gone 120 minutes against Mainz, Markus Anfang can take a lot of performances from the week past. Dominic Peitz will be missing after picking up five yellow cards, leaving David Kinsombi on hand to fill in. As it has been all season, the usual suspects will be in the line-up. The only question is whether or not Anfang wants to mix it up out wide.
Dynamo were dealt a blow just before the weekend began, when it was confirmed that Aias Aosman would join the injury list. The only positive is that Haris Duljevic has been solid since his arrival, and Patrick Möschl was on the scoresheet against Braunschweig. Moritz Hartmann is still out and Philip Heise is suspended, meaning Uwe Neuhaus is digging further into his reserves this weekend. That said, they should still be able to send out a strong side and get back to some sort of form. Dynamo have won just once in their last six league games.
1. FC Nürnberg – FC Ingolstadt 04 (Monday 19:30, FOX Soccer Match Pass)
Nürnberg, along with Ingolstadt and the rest of the top four, are one of the sides to beat this season. Unfortunately for them, after an exhausting evening in the Pokal, they fell to a 1-0 defeat against Heidenheim. It was probably the most disappointing performance under Michael Köllner this season, though this will only give FCN even more incentive to bounce back in style against one of the chasing pack. With no notable injury worries heading into the game, there are no excuses for the hosts not to go out and put on another attacking masterclass.
Ever since their loss to Bochum, Stefan Leitl’s men have looked nearly unstoppable. Aside from a 2-2 draw with Dynamo, they are in fine fettle – winning the other four games since a 2-0 loss at the Ruhrstadion. Sonny Kittel is on course to, somehow, surpass Pascal Groß’ incredible scorer-point record from a few seasons ago. He is the driving force in the side currently, though a strong defence and Thomas Pledl’s moments of magic have been supported by a very sturdy midfield. It’s a game that would have been a foregone conclusion a few weeks ago, but now it’s the highlight of the weekend.