2. Bundesliga – Matchday 16 Preview: Top two meet as promotion race could turn again

Just three games stand between 2. Bundesliga and the horrors of five weeks without football. However, since the international break, the league has been doing its utmost to leave the fans with something to remember. With a mere five points separating sixth and 16th, expect a lot of changes to the table on Matchday 16.

1. FC Heidenheim – 1. FC Kaiserslautern (FOX Soccer Match Pass, Friday 17:30)

Heidenheim are back to their best in recent weeks, and look set to continue their push up the table if the recent form continues. With only Sebastian Griesbeck’s injury to contend with, Frank Schmidt has coped well without one of his key men in midfield. Obviously Marc Schnatterer has been at the heart of that revival, but John Verhoek’s return to scoring form cannot be underestimated and has given them a focal point going forward. Given how tough Kaiserslautern have found things defensively this season, both players are hoping to add to their tallies on Friday night.

The Red Devils are in desperate need of a win. Despite picking up a huge three points in Dresden, results continue to work against Jeff Strasser’s side and they are now seven points from safety. Another swing of results could see that margin move into double figures and, as previously mentioned, the defensive side of things has been far from helpful. That said, their attacking prowess, or lack there of, has been massively damaging to their cause. 10 goals in 15 games, five of which have come from Sebastian Andersson, leaves him cutting a lonely figure up front.

Sebastian Andersson: Lonely up top

Arminia Bielefeld – FC St. Pauli (FOX Soccer Match Pass, Friday 17:30)

Thanks to Andreas Voglsammer’s brace against Kaiserslautern last weekend, Arminia put an end to a rather topsy-turvy period of results. Now back at home, Voglsammer and his team-mates will be keen to pick up a first win at the Bielefelder Alm since they went top of the table thanks to a 2-0 win over VfL Bochum. Jeff Saibene has stated his desire top claim all three points and with all the key players fit and available, it would further push Arminia into the bracket of promotion chasers. 23,000 are expected to watch an entertaining encounter under the floodlights.

Their away form had been something to rely on while the run at Millerntor was somewhat lacklustre, but a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Greuther Furth has left St. Pauli fans wanting. Olaf Janßen’s men are now winless in six and following their promising start, they are number of sides who are still in with a chance of pushing towards the top three. A win in Bielefeld would certainly help their cause and keeps the sides above them within reach. The majority of their injury concerns have dissipated, though Bernd Nehrig will be absent after his red card against Fürth.

1. FC Nürnberg – SV Sandhausen (FOX Soccer Match Pass, Saturday 12:00)

Nürnberg showed that they can turn the style and substance on when it really mattered last weekend, with a late comeback win in Braunschweig. Mikael Ishak’s double now sees him top the scoring charts, and the Swede is not going to want Marvin Ducksch to retake top spot again. Scoring goals certainly hasn’t been an issue but keeping them out certainly is, and Fabian Bredlow will be desperate to ensure that he claims a first clean sheet of the season against Sandhausen. With just three wins in nine home games this season, a combination of Bredlow and Ishak performing well would help.

There are no fresh injury concerns for Sandhausen, as well as Nürnberg, but that is not where the issues lie. These sides are the exact opposite of one another, with the visitors boasting a superb defensive record while struggling to find the back of the net. Kenan Kocak’s side have the best defence in the league, though they have relied heavily on the efforts of Lucas Höler and Richie Sakuta-Pasu to get things going up front. Injuries to Mirco Born and Robert Herrmann haven’t helped much in terms of providing service, and some spark from midfield is definitely needed.

MSV Duisburg – SpVgg Greuther Fürth (Saturday 12:00)

The Zebras were brought back down to earth with a bump by Jahn Regensburg last weekend, as they conceded four goals in what was a shock heavy defeat. They had been moving in the right direction until then, having taken 11 points from a possible 15, and will hope to put that result behind them and get back to winning ways. Ilia Gruev’s men are one of a selection of sides within three points of the relegation play-off. Lukas Fröde’s return from suspension is certain to aid their cause, though it is things either side of Fröde – in defence and in attack – that must improve.

Fürth are also making a push to get back on track, and have made very impressive ground up on those sides above them. Some good recent form at home has been the key to that, as well as simply being able to find the net on a regular basis. There are no new injury worries for Damir Buric to contend with, though there are doubts over some of the defenders that put in a fine shift last weekend. Given that the teams are coming into this game fully fit and with completely contrasting results, this could be one of the more interesting tussles this weekend.

Holstein Kiel – Fortuna Düsseldorf (FOX Soccer Match Pass, Saturday 12:00)

It’s the big one. The top two finally face off. It’s been coming for a while and with both stuttering and spluttering of late, it could be tense. In Kiel’s defence, they have picked up solid draws against both Nürnberg and Ingolstadt. Saturday would also be the perfect chance for Marvin Ducksch to rekindle his scoring form, having hit the back of the net only once in four matches after a superb start. More production from the wings would help, though Kiel know that simply avoiding defeat will be enough to keep them top of the tree going into Matchday 16.

As for Fortuna, it’s all unravelled somewhat. Be it the Rolling Stones (yes, really), Peter Hermann leaving or Florian Neuhaus’ suspension, things just haven’t gone well in the last few weeks. A 3-1 defeat to Dynamo Dresden now has worried, at least from the outside looking in, though Friedhelm Funkel has been playing it cool in the build-up. Neuhaus is, unfortunately, still suspended and Adam Bodzek is also missing. The personnel is unlikely to change much from the loss against Dynamo, though the performance must change for the better.

SV Darmstadt 98 – Jahn Regensburg (FOX Soccer Match Pass, Sunday 12:30)

The pressure is increasing massively on a Darmstadt side that shouldn’t be down where they are. After a strong start to the season, Torsten Frings’ men have fallen away dramatically and are now nine games without a win. Daniel Heuer Fernandes is a welcome returnee this weekend and will hopefully solve the goalkeeping question, while Tobias Kempe should join his in the starting line-up. Felix Platte, however, remains out injured. The Lilies could end up in 16th if results go against them this weekend, and Frings will be looking is shoulder in more than one sense if that happens.

Jahn have been almost the exact opposite in comparison to Darmstadt, and have been in fantastic form of late. 10 points from a possible 12 have taken them away from immediate relegation danger, and a win this weekend would really cement their place in the top half of the table. Oddly, despite being one of their key players, Achim Beierlorzer and Jahn have performed better without Jann George. That is unlikely to change as they head to Darmstadt, with Sargis Adamyan doing a more than admirable job out on the left wing.

Dynamo Dresden – Erzgebirge Aue (Sunday 12:30)

Oddly, the one Sunday game that won’t be broadcast in America is the biggest game of the weekend. The Sachsenderby. Dynamo will be full of renewed confidence after that spectacular win over Fortuna on Monday, but bragging rights over their near neighbours are also vitally important going forward. Three points for Uwe Neuhaus’ men would really turn things around, yet they are still without the trusted Niklas Kreuzer on the right-hand side. Paul Seguin, mistake for the goal aside, did put in a solid shift and offers good delivery on that flank.

Aue’s topsy-turvy time under Hannes Drews shows no sign of ending after a 1-1 draw with Bochum last weekend. In a game where they had the better chances, their finishing was lacklustre and cost them all three points. Dimitrij Nazarov was involved across the pitch but it was perhaps the Azerbaijani international that was guilty of passing up the majority of those opportunities. Much like Dynamo, there are no new injuries to deal with ahead of what is the highlight of the season for both. They won heavily on each other’s patch last term, we will see if that pattern continues on Sunday.

VfL Bochum – 1. FC Union Berlin (FOX Soccer Match Pass, Sunday 12:30)

On a week where it was revealed that Bochum have been waiting for Stanislav Sestak’s transfer fee for six years, and will continue to do so until 2023, it continues to be a period where nothing surprises anyone in the club anymore. The draw against Aue saw the Ruhrpott outfit come from behind to rescue yet another point, though their start to matches this season has been nothing short of horrific. Manuel Riemann is out and Toto Losilla also looks set to miss the game, meaning Felix Dornebusch and Vitaly Janelt will be handed starting spots.

Union have no such problem finding the back of the net, even if it means a slapstick own-goal in the 94th minute to earn a draw against Darmstadt. Keeping the goals out at the other end, no less than seven over the last two weeks, has been an issue. The rumblings over Steven Skrzybski’s annoyance at a lack of first-team football is also playing on the minds, though this is a good opportunity to get back to winning ways away from home. With Skrzbyski unlikely to start, Jens Keller should name an unchanged side from that humdinger against the Lilies.

FC Ingolstadt 04 – Eintracht Braunschweig (FOX Soccer Match Pass, Monday 19:30)

Ingolstadt are the form team in the league at the moment, both defensively and going forward. Ørjan Nyland and his defence have performed admirably in recent weeks, including in an attacking sense, while Sonny Kittel continues to lead the charge in attack. Stefan Leitl has found the perfect mix since he took charge, and they now sit just two points from third after a remarkable turnaround from their early season blunders. With a fully fit squad once more, they’ll be hoping to lay down yet another marker on Monday.

Stefan Leitl finding the right mix

Braunschweig have great memories from their promotion in Ingolstadt a few years ago. This game also has a must-win feel, though for entirely different reasons. A narrow defeat to FCN, after leading, was a disappointment though Suleiman Abdullahi’s form is reason to be positive. Now eight points behind the Franconian outfit after that loss, these three games up to Christmas could well decide whether or not the Lions are in the promotion picture after the Winter Break. Even though they lost the same amount of games as Fortuna, draws have cost Torsten Lieberknecht’s side dearly.

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Jonathan Walsh

Jonny is a 2. Bundesliga fanatic who does little else with his time other than follow, watch, write about, think about, and promote his favorite league. When he isn't in university or trying to defend the Bundesliga's 50+1 rule, you'll most likely find him watching whatever football he can find on TV. Follow him @jonathanwalsh_

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