2. Bundesliga – Matchday 17 Preview: The Hinrunde comes to a close

The Hinrunde is over! Well, after this weekend. It’s almost time to divide the Bundesliga 2 season in half, but not quite yet. There are nine big games to come and then just another matchday before the league comes to a close for winter. There is an incredible amount of permutations at hand, and this weekend will help figure out who will end up where.

Eintracht Braunschweig – Holstein Kiel (Friday 17:30)

Despite the injury concerns and poor form, the Lions pulled a 2-0 win out of the hat in Ingolstadt on Monday evening. The main hope behind a potential revival is Suleiman Abdullahi, who scored the first goal before setting up the second on the night. It’s his third in three games, and the Nigerian has given hope that all is not lost without Totte Nyman. Unfortunately for Torsten Liberknecht he will have to do without Ken Reichel, after he picked up a fifth yellow card. Niko Kijewski should slot in at left-back, meaning Robin Becker is likely to be recalled on the right.

Despite just one win in their last five games, an offence worthy of sacking in some parts, Kiel have managed to negotiate their way through the trickiest part of their season. Their previous six matches have seen them take on four of the five sides below them, and come out with one win and four draws. Markus Anfang’s men know that a win will secure their spot as Herbstmeister – topping the table halfway through the season – and that should be a big enough carrot for any side. As before most games this season, Kiel are able to report a clean bill of health to all those outside the long-term absentees.

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Erzgebirge Aue – SV Darmstadt 98 (Friday 17:30)

While Kiel and Braunschweig might be slightly more appealing to the neutral, this game certainly carries the most importance. Aue have just one win in their last six, and haven’t been able to kick on after their early promise under Hannes Drews. The Violets have been fairly solid in defence, minus the odd blip, but the goals have dried up. With Pascal Köpke’s ability to make something happen being curtailed in recent weeks, the Sachsen side have struggled. After a 4-0  defeat to Dynamo, the fans will expect better. They are, however, unable to call upon Nicolai Rapp due to suspension.

Darmstadt aren’t much better, and a snowy loss against Jahn only further deepened the crisis that they are in. Without a win in 10 games, Torsten Frings has been given assurances that his job is safe. Yet, now in the relegation play-off place, that confidence could slip by the wayside if the Lilies fail to pick up a win from their final two games of 2017. There are no new injury worries for Darmstadt coming into this game, and it is now a question of those players that have come back from time on the sidelines to show their worth and help them gain a vital win in the Kellerduell.

1. FC Union Berlin – Dynamo Dresden (Saturday 12:00)

When most of us woke up on Monday morning, the very last thing that was expected were the rumours surrounding Jens Keller’s future. A couple of hours later, and he was gone. Union have just one win in their last five but are still only five points away from the automatic promotion places. André Hofschneider is the new man at the helm and he will be desperate to get off to a good start. The former caretaker from the 2015-16 season has the full compliment, long-term injuries aside, to choose from and a big game on Saturday afternoon is a great chance to lay down a marker.

Dynamo are riding high on the crest of a wave following their return to form. A 1-3 win over Fortuna was followed by the 4-0 Sachsenderby triumph, lifting Uwe Neuhaus’ men from 16th to 12th. Lucas Röser’s revival has been key in that time, with the former Großaspach front-man causing all sorts of trouble. The same can indeed by said of Philip Heise and Haris Duljevic, who have been a handful on the left. If Dynamo can grab a third win in a row in the capital and follow that up with another before the Winter break, then they could find themselves on the coattails of those pushing for promotion.

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SpVgg Greuther Fürth – 1. FC Heidenheim (Saturday 12:00)

Despite coming into the game in relatively good form, Duisburg proved too much for a Fürth side that failed to take their chances when it mattered most. Damir Buric will want to end the year well and, for their own sake, hopefully not too far from safety. Back at home where they have looked reasonably strong this year, and the Shamrocks are desperate to make that count. They have no fresh injury or disciplinary problems coming into the tussle which could turn out to be a real swing in momentum for the Ronhof side, if they can get a positive result.

Heidenheim’s rise up the table continued last weekend, with Marc Schnatterer’s late effort enough to secure a 3-2 win against Kaiserslautern and a third in a row. After a time where it looked like the pressure was really on the Voith-Arena outfit, 13 points from 15 has pulled them clear of immediate danger. Yet, given the nature of the beast that is 2. Bundesliga, they are not out of the woods yet. Robert Strauß and Sebastian Griesbeck remained sidelined, otherwise there is no reason for Frank Schmidt to change things around.

Jahn Regensburg – VfL Bochum (Saturday 12:00)

It’s not Kiel, it’s not Nürnberg.. but Jahn Regensburg are the in-form 2. Bundesliga side. They’ve managed to get the better of the host of sides around them in the table, and will be keen to add Bochum to the list this weekend. Marco Grüttner’s goalscoring hasn’t been out of the ordinary but continues to find the back of the net when it matters most. Andreas Geipl will be missing for the tough midfield battle that is likely to follow. That said, there is plenty of hope that Marvin Knoll can turn in a similar performance to that which he put in during the Darmstadt snowstorm.

It might have taken a while, two months in fact, but Bochum finally got their second win under Jens Rasiejewski with a 2-1 triumph against Union. Robbie Kruse is also fit again in what will be a huge boost to their attacking threat, though Kevin Stöger and Lukas Hinterseer were equally troubling going forward. The Ruhrpott club are now looking to pull further away from the drop-zone, having ended up in 16th until the 87th minute. Two wins until the end of the year would make a real difference, and could put them in with an outside chance of promotion.

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FC St. Pauli – MSV Duisburg (Sunday 12:30)

It’s been a troubling week for Union, but also St. Pauli. They made the decision to let go of Olaf Janßen on Friday morning, and he was replaced by Markus Kauczinski. Not only that, but the Hamburg-based club are also without Christopher Buchtmann and Mats Møller Dæhli for the foreseeable future. After such a promising start, St. Pauli are now closer to the relegation battle instead of that elusive return to the Bundesliga. Goals have been the biggest problem, aside from shipping nine goals in two weeks, and that will have to change this weekend and from now on.

Duisburg, on the other hand, are flying high. With the exception of their 4-0 loss to Jahn, they have been in fine fettle themselves. They were handed a major blow when Moritz Stoppelkamp was ruled out for the remainder of the year with injury, though Ilia Gruev will be keen to emphasise that they have the players available to cope in his absence. That said, Calu Oliveira Sourza has been equally productive out on the right and he is certain to take over that productive mantle from Stoppelkamp.

SV Sandhausen – Arminia Bielefeld (Sunday 12:30)

Kenan Kocak side have been steadily slipping down the table in recent weeks. The games they lost might have just been to the odd goal, though one win in six has seen them drop from unlikely promotion push to stuck in the middle of the pack with everyone else. It’s important to end the year on a high given the competitiveness at the bottom, and Sandhausen could still end up in 16th if things go against them to finish 2017. There are no fresh injury worries and both Richie Sakuta-Pasu and Lucas Höler should be ready to play.

Arminia shocked everyone with a 5-0 win against St. Pauli last Friday night, and suddenly seem back in with a shout of promotion. After several weeks of stuttering and spluttering, Jeff Saibene’s men came back with a bang and now have the chance to put some real pressure on those above them. They are without Florian Dick, due to a muscle problem, and Keanu Staude is still sidelined also. There still should be no real issues in terms of team selection and it seems likely that Patrick Weihrauch will end up slotting in at right-back.

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1. FC Kaiserslautern – FC Ingolstadt 04 (Sunday 12:30)

Despite looking nailed on for a very good point at Heidenheim, Marc Schnatterer’s long-range goal scuppered any hopes of a share of the spoils. Now eight points from safety, these final two games could define the Red Devils’ season. Jeff Strasser has certainly improved things since he came in but a combination of injuries, mistakes and moments of madness have cost the club. Lukas Spalvis, who scored, gave away a penalty and got sent off in the space of 10 minutes will be unavailable, would could allow for an interesting front two of Brandon Borrello and Sebastian Andersson.

Ingolstadt are without Almog Cohen for accumulating five yellow cards, but otherwise carry a clean bill of health to the Fritz-Walter-Stadion. They have, however, picked up their first setback in a while after that loss to Braunschweig. Despite dominating the play and having the majority of the chances, their front-line and midfield failed to find the cutting edge when it mattered most. Stefan Leitl will put it down to a blip on the road to a Bundesliga return, yet it is important to turn things around at the first time of asking.

Fortuna Düsseldorf – 1. FC Nürnberg (Monday 19:30)

Another Topsiel, another Fortuna game. This time Friedhelm Funkel’s men welcome Nürnberg to Düsseldorf, with the Franconians hot on their heels. Florian Neuhaus is finally back after his suspension and might well slot straight back into the middle of midfield. Fortuna will be out to set the record straight after finding it tough going against the top sides in recent weeks, and going on a four-game winless run in that period. Two wins before the Winter Break would change that mentality entirely, and rejuvenate a side that has put so much into a successful season to date.

As for Michael Köllner’s Nürnberg, they are hot on Fortuna’s heels and know that a set of favourable results could even see them end up as the Herbstmeister. However, that will be far from the players’ minds and a win puts them into the automatic promotion places ahead of Fortuna. What was an eight-point gap just a month ago could turn into a one-point advantage for FCN. They should be at full strength for the huge clash, which bring the matchday to a close in very fitting fashion.

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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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