The international break is finally over. If your nation missed out on a place in the World Cup, thank you Mr Hategan, then a return to 2. Bundesliga action will be warmly welcomed. There are several important mid-table battles between sides out of form, though the real entertainment is likely to come as four of the top five face off in a series of crucial clashes.
SV Darmstadt 98 – SV Sandhausen (FOX Soccer Match Pass, Friday 17:30)
Despite having two weeks to recoup some of their injured players, Darmstadt are still without key men ahead of this tussle. Daniel Heuer Fernandes, Tobias Kempe, Peter Niemeyer and Felix Platte remain absent, meaning Torsten Frings have little other option other than to stick with the same bunch of players as before. Darmstadt are one of a number of sides who know they need to pick up form in order to keep up with the chasing pack, and it will be exactly two months since they last won a match when this game kicks off.
Sandhausen have found things similarly tough recently, and fell off their impressive perch after picking up just a solitary point from their last four outings. Kenan Kocak found things tough without Lucas Höler, yet the forward has been unable to find the form of early on this season. The likes of Andrew Wooten and Mirco Born are still out injured, though Robert Herrmann was confirmed to be missing for the remainder of the year due to another lengthy injury. With just a point between the sides and form not a key factor, both sides will hope this can kick-start their season once more.
Arminia Bielefeld – Eintracht Braunschweig (FOX Soccer Match Pass, Friday 17:30)
Arminia and Jeff Saibene can join the two previous sides, as another who has failed to kick on after a very promising start to the season. Brian Behrendt and Julian Börner are both suspended, meaning Henri Weigelt and Stephan Salger will partner up at the centre of defence. Andraz Sporar is also missing with a tooth problem, and that should allow Fabian Klos to join Andreas Voglsammer up front. Those two combined for the dramatic equaliser against Aue, and Saibene will be desperate for those two to do so again and recreate that incredible 6-0 win of last season.
Torsten Lieberknecht is under pressure to pick up Eintracht’s form to the heights of last season, but that has been severely hampered by injury troubles. Joe Baffo, Mirko Boland, Quirin Moll, Domi Kumbela, Totte Nyman and Julius Biada are all unavailable through injury for this one. A last-minute leveller from Patrick Schönfeld earned a point against Darmstadt, though they will have to be much more convincing throughout the whole game if they are to banish the demons of last season. Like Arminia, a win is key to keeping up with the sides at the top.
1. FC Heidenheim – 1. FC Union Berlin (FOX Soccer Match Pass, Saturday 12:00)
Heidenheim fought back twice at the death to earn a controversial 2-2 draw against Fortuna last time out, in a game which had as many headlines after as it did during. They will be without Mathias Wittek, thanks to his retrospective ban, but that fighting spirit is something that Frank Schmidt is keen to harness in the right manner and channel into positive results. They’ve shown much more promise in recent weeks, in comparison to their start to the season, and they are well aware that a win will take them out of the relegation play-off zone before their rivals play.
Union have been hit by several defensive problems of late, with Astuto Uchida joined by Michael Parensen, Fabian Schönheim and Christopher Trimmel on the treatment table. Kenny Prince Redondo is also out with another injury issue. Jens Keller still has a strong side to choose from, and Marcel Hartel’s superb form throughout the international break will give him great hope that he can find the back of the net for his club on a more regular basis. Steven Skrzybski is desperate to force himself back into the side, after being benched in favour of Akaki Gogia.
VfL Bochum – SpVgg Greuther Fürth (Saturday 12:00)
Bochum will welcome back Robbie Kruse this weekend after he helped Australia to World Cup qualification, though it’s unlikely that he will play the full 90 minutes after his return from injury. Kevin Stöger is still suspended, though Lukas Hinterseer is back from his red card and should partner Dimitrios Diamantakos up front once more. At the very least, Jens Rasiejewski has steadied the ship defensively. Bochum seem set to name a fairly similar side to that which took to the field against Kaiserslautern, although some formation tweaks may occur to make it a more attacking line-up.
Despite losing out to Jahn before the international break, injuries have been kind to the Shamrocks during the time away from competitive action. They will see Richard Magyar, Marco Caligiuri and Mario Maloca fit enough to start in Bochum – if required – and should be joined by Roberto Hilbert and Maxi Wittek as well. This is a welcome boost to Damir Buric, who would have been contemplating serious defensive changes had those five players been absent. It will be interesting to see whether he continues to leave out Serdar Dursun, as the Croat continues to experiment up front.
1. FC Nürnberg – Holstein Kiel (FOX Soccer Match Pass, Saturday 12:00)
One of the two games this weekend that see two of the top five pitted against one another, this game has huge ramifications for both sides. After looking imperious through September and October, a defeat to Heidenheim at the end of the month has somewhat set FCN off course. That was followed by a late loss to Ingolstadt, and now they will be desperate to set the record straight at home to Kiel. One thing that the fans can be happy about, however, is that their youth internationals came through the international games unscathed.
Kiel and Markus Anfang also have no fresh injury worries, and will be hoping to pick up all three points and truly shift the pressure onto Fortuna ahead of their big game. This would be the real chance the Storks have had to push home their advantage of playing before the table toppers. It’s unlikely that there will be much in the way of change from the side that beat Dynamo, yet Aaron Seydel’s scoring exploits while on international duty will have done his case no harm. While Kiel have only sprung surprises this season, a win in the Max-Morlock-Stadion would rubber-stamp their promotion push.
FC Ingolstadt 04 – Fortuna Düsseldorf (FOX Soccer Match Pass, Sunday 12:30)
The Schanzer have taken the mantle of being the league’s form side from Nürnberg in recent weeks, and look every bit the promotion challenger that everyone thought they would be. Stefan Leitl deserves huge credit for turning things around and that win against FCN typified the new-look Ingolstadt. Sonny Kittel will be keen to get back among the goals this week and maintain his incredible scorer-point tally (14), though Thomas Pledl and Stefan Kutschke have helped to lift the burden on the diminutive winger. They come into the game at full strength.
Fortuna’s final 10 minutes of football before the break resembled more of a bar brawl and a game of Sensible Soccer than what we usually expect. However, three goals, a debatable penalty, a red card and a retrospective ban followed a quite incredible end. That does mean that Florian Neuhaus and Kaan Ayhan will be missing on Sunday, which doesn’t bode well given that Oliver Fink still isn’t fit. That will likely mean a return to 4-4-2, and the sturdy nature of both Adam Bodzek and Marcel Sobottka could turn to be a blessing in disguise on a tough away trip.
FC St. Pauli – Jahn Regensburg (FOX Soccer Match Pass, Sunday 12:30)
At long last, Olaf Janßen can almost call on a fully fit squad. Aziz Bouhaddouz is back and scored a brace during the international break friendlies, which will be most welcome given the lack of goals from this St. Pauli side. There could be a scenario where both Sami Allagui and Bouhaddouz start up front in order to spark some form of attacking revival, and they could be joined by Enver Cenk Sahin on the wing once more. With just one win and three 1-1 draws in their last five games, it’s time for St. Pauli to get back in the promotion race.
Jahn Regensburg come into Sunday’s matchup with two consecutive wins before the international break to end a three match losing streak. Thirteenth in the table, Regensburg are only -3 in goal differential, and trail St. Pauli by only four points in the standings. Achim Beierlorzer’s side could mark a season’s first by winning three in a row with a victory at the Millentor.
MSV Duisburg – Erzgebirge Aue (Sunday 12:30)
The Zebras have picked up eight points from their last four games to haul themselves away from the relegation zone, and Ilia Gruev’s men now have a four-point gap between themselves and 16th. Branimir Bajic and Nico Klotz are available for selection once again, though Andreas Wiegel is now sidelined through injury. Otherwise, it should be very much as it were for Duisburg. A win would take them above their opponents and, with three clean sheets in their last four games, there is plenty of confidence throughout the team.
Aue are also without injury concern, aside from that of Nicky Adler’s long-term issue. Dimitrij Nazarov is still suspended, however. That means it will be the same side that Hannes Drews sent out against Arminia Bielefeld before the international break. The Violets were just minutes away from a second win in three, only to be denied in the 91st minute. Despite that, Drews and his charges still sit comfortably in eighth with relegation – at least for now – far removed from the vocabulary. They will be hoping that remains the same up until the Winter Break at least.
Dynamo Dresden – 1. FC Kaiserslautern (FOX Soccer Match Pass and BT Sport, Monday 19:30)
The final game to round off Matchday 14 sees two teams in desperate need of a win facing off. Dynamo haven’t claimed three points since their Matchday 9 triumph in Heidenheim, and the latest injury to Manuel Konrad has further depleted numbers in midfield. Pascal Testroet may have started running training once more, in what is a crumb of good news for the Saxony side. Uwe Neuhaus’ men have looked a shadow of their former selves and, if things don’t go their way this weekend, they could end up just a point above the relegation zone.
The Red Devils were dealt a fresh injury blow of their own, as it became clear that Mads Albaek would require surgery to solve his injury woes. He joins a long list of players out, though it seems like Jeff Strasser is going to keep giving the youngsters a chance while the more experienced players work towards a return. The DDV-Stadion hasn’t been the fortress that many may have expected it to be this season, and it might well be the chance for Kaiserslautern to find an elusive win and get some much-needed momentum before the final four games of 2017.