2. Bundesliga – Matchday 23 Preview: Can Kaiserslautern keep up their recent run?

In what could have been a week where Kaiserslautern were sunk and Fortuna move into an almost unassailable position at the top, neither result panned out. Instead, 2. Bundesliga is at a stage now where very few teams can rest easy and Fortuna were not made to pay for their slip up. With that all in mind, here’s how things are shaping up for Matchday 23.

1. FC Heidenheim – VfL Bochum (Friday 17:30)

Heidenheim had been enjoying a relative revival up until last weekend, where they fell to a 2-0 defeat in Regensburg. Their attacking threat, which had made a return over the previous few months, was sorely lacking as Jahn were able to shut down Marc Schnatterer and John Verhoek. There will be the need for a defensive reshuffle with Kevin Kraus suspended for this game and Norman Theuerkauf’s less than convincing performance at left-back. Arne Feick is likely to come back in there, while Theuerkauf and Mathias Wittek battle for a spot beside Timo Beermann.

With Robin Dutt now installed as head coach and dividing opinion on the Ruhrstadion terraces, his first chance to validate Sebastian Schindzielorz’s decision. After their win last week against Darmstadt, it’s a real chance for Bochum to build confidence and climb the table away from the relegation zone. Dutt brings a fully fit squad to Heidenheim with Timo Perthel finally over his troublesome knee issues. The question over who does start will certainly be one of interest to all fans, whether or not Dutt keeps with the same side that Heiko Butscher went with remains to be seen.

1. FC Kaiserslautern – SV Sandhausen (Friday 17:30)

Kaiserslautern are back in with a shout of remaining as a 2. Bundesliga club this season. So often they’ve had setbacks and looked down and out, but Michael Frontzeck maintained his 100% record with a 3-1 win over Kiel to set the cat amongst the pigeons. With a game in hand on the sides above them, a six-point gap to safety could become three. The 4-4-2 is working a treat and both Osayamen Osawe and Lukas Spalvis look like new signings, so much so that Sebastian Andersson has been resigned to the bench. If they pick up another three points, the dynamics at the bottom will change again.

Sandhausen missed another opportunity to close the gap to Kiel at the weekend, with a dull 0-0 draw at home to Braunschweig. They were the better side but a stubborn rearguard action proved too tough to break down. Kenan Kocak’s men are still just four points away from third and another good run could see them close that gap once again. However, it is the goalscoring issue that has arisen since Lucas Höler’s departure that remains the real stumbling block. Should Richie Sakuta-Pasu and Rurík Gíslason start firing, then they will certainly be in the mix come May.

Arminia Bielefeld – SV Darmstadt 98 (Saturday 12:00)

Another team struggling for goals, at least from a recognised source, is Arminia Bielefeld. Both Andreas Voglsammer and Fabian Klos have struggled to find the net of late, although the team have still managed to grab goals where it has mattered. The others have rallied round and still sees them sit in a promising position, just five points from third. While promotion wasn’t the aim going into the season, they look set to avoid the drop and can have a real crack at chasing down Kiel. They are without injury or suspension once more, meaning Jeff Saibene is free to change things up if he wishes.

Darmstadt are struggling at the other end of the pitch, as they just can’t seem to find that solidity which accompanied Dirk Schuster’s first spell in charge. With Kaiserslautern on the rise and a crucial rearranged fixture on the horizon, the Lilies could do with a positive result this weekend. There are no fresh concerns that came from the Bochum game, result aside, as Schuster aims to end the negativity. One positive is that Darmstadt have picked up as many points away from the Bölle as they have at home, and there is little doubt they will try to play to their strengths to add to that tally.

FC Ingolstadt 04 – FC St. Pauli (Saturday 12:00)

Ingolstadt have been in mixed form since the Winter Break, which will provide all the motivation they need ahead of this fixture. Knowing that the opportunity was there for them to move ahead of Kiel in third, Stefan Leitl’s men could well move level with the Storks this weekend. Marcel Gaus is suspended which will hand a fresh chance to Paulo Octavio to impress at left-back, while Hauke Wahl is hoping to regain his spot back from Tobias Schröck. Given that the Schanzer were 4-0 up in Hamburg by half-time when these sides met earlier in the season, they would likely settle for that again.

Sankt Pauli, on the other hand, will be desperate for revenge. They were incredibly unlucky not to beat Nürnberg on Monday as a combination of goalkeeper and aluminium kept them out. Markus Kauczinski, who will face his former club on Saturday, started off with two wins but is winless in the three games since and the pressure is starting to mount as those below them continue to pick up points. Kauczinski has a clean bill of health coming out of the game and will be desperate for Aziz Bouhaddouz and Sami Allagui to fire this weekend.

Fortuna Düsseldorf – SpVgg Greuther Fürth (Saturday 12:00)

A win could have put real distance between themselves and their challengers yet, with good results elsewhere, they kept their lead at the top and saw Kiel gain no ground. Oliver Fink should return to the side although Friedhelm Funkel will have to do without Benito Raman, who is suspended for the game. Fortuna are likely to go back to their usual 4-2-3-1 formation against Fürth, with set-up during the loss against Union failing to impress. Takashi Usami and Davor Lovren look likely to occupy the spots on the wings without Raman and Genki Haraguchi.

The Shamrocks picked up three vital points in the battle to beat the drop last weekend as a strong defensive effort got the better of Dynamo Dresden. Goals are still a concern for Damir Buric but there can be no complaints whatsoever on the other side of the ball. Only Sandhausen have conceded less goals over the last six matches than Fürth. With that in mind, Buric is likely to maintain the same starting side that won at the Sportpark Ronhof. This will be a completely different challenge to the one last weekend, yet the are without expectation and will head to Düsseldorf hoping for an upset.

Holstein Kiel – Erzgebirge Aue (Saturday 12:00)

Things are beginning to look a little bleak up in north Germany. Despite their incredible table-topping start, Kiel have been hauled in with two loses and seven draws in their last nine games. Getting over the line has proven incredibly difficult for Markus Anfang’s men in recent weeks and the absence of both Amara Condé and Patrick Herrmann won’t help. After experimenting with the line-up it should be back to the tried and trusted 11 players that began the season so well. The extensions of Kenneth Kronholm and David Kinsombi should, at the very least, raise spirits in the camp.

Aue and Hannes Drews ended their run of three straight defeats against Ingolstadt on Sunday, something which will give them hope of avoiding the drop. Now into 16th and on the edge of dropping further, this is a good chance for them to build on that result against a side also lacking in confidence. They are only without Nicolai Rapp, who will be missing for a considerable period with his foot issues, though Malcolm Cacutalua did a fine job against the Schanzer. After a lack of attack in the aforementioned match, Pascal Köpke and co. will be desperate to get on the scoresheet in Kiel.

1. FC Nürnberg – MSV Duisburg (Sunday 12:30)

Despite missing the chance to go top on Monday night, that was not the major concern for Michael Köllner and Nürnberg. Instead it was the injury to Mikael Ishak, who is now out for up to eight weeks with knee ligament problems. It now raises questions over whether or not they can cope without his style of play up front. Edgar Salli looks set to partner Federico Palacios Martinez up front but Adam Zrelak could be the man to do that in the long-term, given the comparable physicality of the two. That aside, it should be very much as you were from a Nürnberg point of view.

Duisburg may have been required to come back not once but twice to get a point against Arminia, but that showed the continued battling nature that the Zebras have this season. They are now the side in pole position to capitalise on any Kiel mistakes, just two points behind and the league’s form side over the last six games. Ilia Gruev has done magnificently well to eradicate the errors from earlier in the campaign and turn those into positive improvements. Even without Cauly Oliveira Souza things have gone smoothly, and a win for MSV would put even more sides in with a hope of promotion.

Eintracht Braunschweig – 1. FC Union Berlin (Sunday 12:30)

With just one win in six the pressure is heat is on for Torsten Lieberknecht. The Eintracht boss thought that the victory in Aue was the turning point yet they then lost to Kaiserslautern and drew with Sandhausen. There are just four points between themselves and the relegation places, so a positive result is key. One brighter note for the Lions is that the injury woes have eased. With Totte Nyman back in the line-up, he could soon be joined by Mirko Boland who has recovered well. There could be yet another change in formation to spark the side into life.

Things are much brighter for Union after André  Hoschneider finally picked up his first win in charge. A confident and deserved 3-1 triumph over Fortuna should bring in a new wave of optimism, with Steven Skrzybski’s excellent form playing a big part in that. His partnership in a front two with Sebastian Polter is proving to be successful, yet Hofschneider will have to do without the suspended Felix Kroos. Toni Leistner could also make his return following suspension to take up his place in the new-look back three that has worked well in recent weeks.

Dynamo Dresden – Jahn Regensburg (Sunday 12:30)

Dynamo have found things tough going of late and been unable to string any sort of form together. The promise against Bochum slipped away with defeat against Fürth, despite being the better side they failed to find a way through the Shamrocks. That said, key players are back from suspension. That should provide a boost to Uwe Neuhaus, who would recognise that this squad is capable of doing much more. A strong finish should keep the majority of the squad together, as interest surrounding their key men grows.

Jahn, on the other hand, have taken 11 points from the last 15 available and are set to push towards the right end of the table. A comfortable 2-0 win over Heidenheim last time out has continued their run of good form, and another win away in Dresden would further cement their place in the top half. Much like many of the other sides in the league, there is now a real chance they could be in the mix-up for a promotion spot come May, and Achim Beierlorzer deserves a huge amount of credit for that. Benedikt Gimber is back after his suspension and should slot back in to central midfield once more.

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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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