Another week, more madness in Bochum. It’s come to be expected but the club have acted once more to try to stop a slide into 3. Liga. Things are much more calm elsewhere, yet the pressure is mounting at the top and bottom of 2. Bundesliga as we head into Matchday 22. Here’s all you need to know as things get underway on Friday.
1. FC Kaiserslautern – Holstein Kiel (Friday 17:30)
Kaiserslautern’s situation was given a huge shot in the arm last weekend as they managed to overcome Braunschweig away from home. It was hardly a classic and they might have been clinging on at the end, yet it was a hugely important three points and one which brings them eight points from safety. Michael Frontzeck’s first game in charge could hardly have proved more positive, with the Red Devils’ carrying a real attacking threat. Now they have they chance to do it in front of their own fans, and the return of Marius Müller from suspension will undoubtedly help.
Kiel, on the other hand, are in a battle to stay in the race at the top. They currently hold a three-point lead to MSV Duisburg in fourth, having won just once in their last 10 games. Markus Anfang’s men might have only lost once during that time, yet the ground they’ve given up has seen Fortuna and Nürnberg jump well clear. Having Dominick Drexler back from suspension will be warmly welcomed by all. Despite creating the chances against Jahn, Drexler not only offers another player to finish the chances but a presence in midfield most teams worry about. He could be key on Friday.
VfL Bochum – SV Darmstadt 98 (Friday 17:30)
With the mood at an all time low in Bochum, Wednesday evening sparked what could be the change the fans have so desperately craved. Jens Rasiejewski is gone, and so is Christian Hochstätter. Two men who have, quite literally, driven fans out of the stadium were shown the door and fresh hope now lies at Heiko Butscher’s door for the time being. There will no doubt be more stories to come out in the days to follow but for those who have stayed away in recent months, this is the best news that they could have been given ahead of the floodlight fixture.
Darmstadt had their own morale boost with the return of Dirk Schuster just before Christmas, yet were left disappointed last Sunday with a 2-1 loss against Duisburg. They can take heart from the chances created but the lack of a final finish is somewhat concerning. The fact that Ji Dong-Won and Joevin Jones are already off the mark is promising, and the latter has been incredibly lively in his first two games. That will need to continue if the Lilies are to haul themselves away from the dropzone, and is especially key against one of their main rivals at the bottom.
1. FC Union Berlin – Fortuna Düsseldorf (Saturday 12:00)
As the saying goes, when it rains, it pours. That is certainly true of André Hofschneider’s first few games in charge. Still winless,FCU had a 94th-minute winner controversially denied as Tobias Reichel has whistled for full-time as Steven Skrzybski smashed home. In some better news for the Berlin-based outfit, Toni Leistner is back from suspension. The question is now whether or not to move away from what was a fairly promising defensive partnership in Bielefeld. The other big news concerned Damir Kreilach, who has departed Köpenick for Real Salt Lake of the MLS.
Fortuna are flying high at the moment and their march to the Bundesliga is looking ever more certain. Last week’s win over SV Sandhausen was far from pretty but highlighted their ability to do the dirty work when necessary. Raphael Wolf was the hero thanks to his rearguard heroics and is making it much harder for Michael Rensing to return as number one. Kaan Ayhan’s new deal has settled news that he might not be around next season, should the club get promoted. Friedhelm Funkel is without Genki Haraguchi and Oliver Fink for the trip to Berlin.
Jahn Regensburg – 1. FC Heidenheim (Saturday 12:00)
Speaking of surprise packages, Jahn Regensburg have done a pretty decent job themselves. Despite being written off by many before the season started, Achim Beierlorzer has got the absolute maximum out of the squad and they sit just six points from the promotion play-offs. While he won’t let the side get carried away, taking five points from nine games against Nürnberg, Ingolstadt and Kiel is evidence of just what they can do. Benedikt Gimber is suspended as they welcome Heidenheim, though Andreas Geipl’s return to fitness will certainly shore up the midfield.
Heidenheim have been another side experiencing a revival and are much more at home in the top half than their bottom dwelling in the past few months. Led by the insatiable Marc Schnatterer, Frank Schmidt’s men are one of a number of teams who will be feeling that Kiel can be caught heading into the final stretch. Someone else leading the recent charge is John Verhoek. The Dutchman is enjoying his most successful season in front of goal since 2012-13, and if that continues and Schmidt’s side improve defensively then they will be targeting sixth place once more.
MSV Duisburg – Arminia Bielefeld (Saturday 12:00)
While Kiel nabbed all of the early season headlines, Ilia Gruev’s Zebras are now just three points behind the Storks. Their squad management has been nothing short of excellent and, after a tricky start, they are showing what continuity and calm can do for a football club. Even when Boris Tashchy has failed to find the net, those around him have stepped up to the plate. Zlatko Janjic has left the club and will ply his trade in Poland, ending his time in the Ruhr. Fabian Schnellhardt is back after a ban, but Cauly Oliveira Souza is set for a spell on the sidelines due to a viral inflection.
After a tough end to 2017, Arminia have tightened up and are looking much more solid. Their entire season has been somewhat topsy-turvy, although five points from nine is a steady record to build upon. The lack of goals has been a concern given some of the chances they have created, with Andreas Voglsammer having gone off the boil and Leandro Putaro taking Fabian Klos’ spot beside him. Whether this is permanent or not remains to be seen but there is no doubting the form of Konstantin Kerschbaumer and Florian Hartherz, who have been superb in the new year.
Erzgebirge Aue – FC Ingolstadt 04 (Sunday 12:30)
Hannes Drews’ honeymoon period is well and truly over. Aue have been on a steady slide before the Winter Break and have accumulated just four points from the last 18 available. That, coupled with the fact they have been beaten in each of their last three games, does not breed confidence. Nicolai Rapp’s foot injury is another blow, though it is properly the one area in which the Violets are best suited to cope. While there is plenty of promise and plus points through the squad, things just haven’t clicked recently. That said, they can’t leave it too late to make a change to try and rescue matters.
As for Stefan Leitl and Ingolstadt, the Schanzer have consistently shown that they will be one of the sides gunning for a top three spot come May. Their win against Fürth was their second in six, but now the fixtures will ease up slightly and goals should start to flow. That said, they will be without Stefan Kutschke who has been struck down with illness which leaves Dario Lezcano to lead the line. Sonny Kittel’s goal last weekend will have certainly eased fears that he had hit a wall this season, and he will be charged with providing that creative spark once again in Aue.
SpVgg Greuther Fürth – Dynamo Dresden (Sunday 12:30)
The Shamrocks have enjoyed mixed form in recent weeks with promise failing to pay dividends as cold, hard results. After three straight draws, and three clean sheets in four, the defence finally cracked and cost Fürth dearly against Ingolstadt. The task is now to bounce back against a side just six points above them. The 4-3-3 did not work against the Schanzer’s excellent midfield trio, and Buric will likely opt for something more measured against a side with similar strength in that area. A return to scoring form for Serdar Dursun would be not only welcome, but very timely.
Dynamo have been well off their pace of last season, but a confident display against Bochum will give them hope that a turnaround is on the horizon. They are without key players already and, with Niklas Kreuzer and Jannik Müller suspended, are feeling the pinch. One area of concern heading in 2018 was between the posts with injury sidelining Marvin Schwäbe. However, Markus Schubert has continued to fill in for the on-loan stopper in a more than admirable fashion. Despite a debut goal for Moussa Koné, it’s likely that seven-goal Lucas Röser will lead the line against Fürth.
SV Sandhausen – Eintracht Braunschweig (Sunday 12:30)
Despite coming away from Düsseldorf empty-handed, Sandhausen can take solace from the fact they were the better team on the night. Kenan Kocak’s well-drilled defence was there for all to see, only for Raphael Wolf to put in an extraordinary goalkeeping performance and deny them a share of the spoils. There was only one negative, aside from the loss, from the evening that saw Philipp Klingmann fracture has skull. SVS will certainly not be rushing their star right-back for a return, and instead can count on Ken Gipson or Manuel Stiefler in that role.
It was one step forward, one stop back for Eintracht in the last weeks. Torsten Lieberknecht saw the Lions comfortably beat Aue before, again, coming unstuck, against Kaiserslautern. It has led to renewed speculation over Lieberknecht’s future, though many fans have thrown their full-backing behind the second-longest serving manager in the division. The charismatic head coach is without Patrick Schönfeld through injury and that should hand Özkan Yildirim a start alongside Jan Hochscheidt. The front three are working well, although Onur Bulut will be gunning for a place amongst them.
FC St. Pauli – 1. FC Nürnberg (Monday 19:30)
Another side in need of three points are Sankt Pauli. They opted for a change of coach and enjoyed two victories in Markus Kauczinski’s first two matches, only two lose the two that followed. It’s a straight time for the Kiezkickers who find themselves in a similar place to many sides, who don’t know if relegation or promotion is of greater concern. Personnel wise Enver Cenk Sahin and Marc Hornschuh, who had surgery on his back, are still absent with nothing else changing on the injury front. The decision rests with Kauczinski as to who takes the tricky winger’s place on Monday night.
Things couldn’t be more different for Nürnberg, who seem set to end their wait for a Bundesliga return this year. A 4-1 win over Aue, despite not being near their best for 45 minutes, showed just how they can turn things on. Federico Palacios Martinez earned a hat-trick of assists, and Kevin Möhwald’s stock rose once more with a well-taken brace. This has, historically, been a tough fixture for the Franconians who have just one win in Hamburg in their 2. Bundesliga meetings with Sankt Pauli. That may have come as recently as 2015, yet Michael Köllner will want to add a second to that list.