2. Bundesliga’s battle for promotion and relegation continues to twist and turn every week. In fact, 16 points separate third and last in the league with concerns over both reaches of the table applying to a number of sides. There is plenty on the line this weekend, and here’s how Matchday 24 is shaping up.
Arminia Bielefeld – Dynamo Dresden (Friday 17:30)
With the wind in their sails from a superb recent run of form, Jeff Saibene and Arminia will be keen to kick Matchday 23 off with a win. Having gone the last five games unbeaten and getting a 2-0 win over Darmstadt last weekend, the hosts are setting out their stall for a promotion push. Goalscoring forwards remain a concern but with both getting assists last weekend, they are contributing to the tally. Yet with Konstantin Kerschbaumer’s form showing no signs of slowing, there is real hope that Andreas Voglsammer’s return to finding the back of the net can push them into third place.
As for Dynamo, they got back to winning ways against Jahn and will be hopeful of finally finding a way to make that stick. Too often has a positive result been followed immediately by a negative and it is no doubt a tough task to end the run away in Bielefeld. However, Uwe Neuhaus can be confident in his defence who put in a fine display against the high-flying Oberpfalz outfit. This could also be the game where Moussa Koné is handed a start after two superb substitute appearances. A front two of Koné and Lucas Röser would certainly give Arminia a lot to think about.
Jahn Regensburg – Fortuna Düsseldorf (Friday 17:30)
With that defeat to Dynamo, it’s a case of getting back on the horse for Achim Beierlorzer and his men. The loss prevented them from moving into fourth, although there will be no shortage of determination to push back towards that this week. Despite going down 1-0, Jahn are one of the league’s form teams having picked up seven wins and three draws from their last 12 games. Fortuna only just got the better of Jahn in the early season meeting but both have moved on from there, and this represents a good chance for the away side to lay down a marker for the remainder of the campaign.
Fortuna, who have failed to win in their last two outings, still sit joint-top of the table. With results below them, notably for Kiel, continuing to go their way it looks like Friedhelm Funkel will be celebrating a record sixth promotion to the Bundesliga and his first since 2005. Benito Raman is back from injury but Marcel Sobottka is out with a cold, meaning Adam Bodzek is likely to slot in beside Florian Neuhaus in midfield. Raman’s return will be welcomed with open arms and the tricky Belgian is raring to get back out and continue what has been a superb season to date.
1. FC Union Berlin – SV Sandhausen (Saturday 12:00)
After beating Fortuna 3-1, it looked like Union had finally found something that had worked and that they would be back on the straight and narrow. Fast forward one week and one uninspiring performance against Braunschweig later, it’s back to square one. Akaki Gogia is suspended which could see André Hofschneider opt for a more stable midfield in front of the back five to compete with Sandhausen. With Union only six points from Kiel in third, anything is possible. On the other hand, they’re a mere seven away from the relegation play-off place. Things could go either way from here on out.
Sandhausen are the team that are, at least currently, closest to catching Kiel in third. It’s been a remarkable season from Kenan Kocak’s men, not least given that they have been hampered with injury for the entire year and Lucas Höler left for Freiburg. SVS have never won in Berlin and getting the better of Union would underline their ambitions to go the distance in the promotion push. That said, Leart Paqarada’s suspension will mean that Kocak is forced to alter his defence once more, although the best back-line in the division won’t want to be beaten come Saturday.
Erzgebirge Aue – 1. FC Kaiserslautern (Saturday 12:00)
Aue look to finally be building a way out of the awful rut they found themselves in either side of Christmas. Still without a win in their last six games, Hannes Drews has managed very credible draws against both Ingolstadt and Kiel. However, the task is now to turn that into a win in one of the most important games of the season. They will be without Sören Bertram through injury, and goals from recognised sources is beginning to become a problem. Now that Cebio Soukou’s form has come to a halt, there is a real need for someone to step up and fill the goalscoring void.
One side who are not in the need of goals is Kaiserslautern. Michael Frontzeck has turned things around in a big way on the Betzenberg, picking up three wins from four. That included a 2-1 triumph over Darmstadt on Wednesday, meaning they are now just four points from safety and only one point from the Lilies. They will be without the excellent Philipp Mwene through suspension and Ruben Jenssen is likely to miss out for private reasons once more. However, Lukas Spalvis should be fit once again which gives Frontzeck yet another option in attack.
MSV Duisburg – FC Ingolstadt 04 (Saturday 12:00)
Despite their remarkable run coming to an end last weekend in Franconia, a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Nürnberg will not have hurt the Zebras’ promotion hopes too much. Ilia Gruev’s men controlled large parts of the game, much like the tussle earlier in the season, yet failed to take their chances. They’ll see this match as the perfect way to get back on track against a fellow side gunning for the Bundesliga. The inspirational Kevin Wolze is absent, however, meaning that a replacement will need to be found on the left. Otherwise it looks set to be the usual tried and trusted formula.
Ingolstadt have been in topsy-turvy form of late and Stefan Leitl will be desperate to end a run of just one win in five. Only five goals have come in that run, all of which came across two games, and an attack that looked menacing before the Winter Break seems to have lost some of that bite. The absence of Sonny Kittel thanks to a fifth yellow card certainly won’t help matters, and Leitl is no doubt expecting something more from Dario Lezcano after a lacklustre performance against Sankt Pauli. A few changes to the side certainly wouldn’t hurt, and might give the squad a necessary jolt.
SpVgg Greuther Fürth – Eintracht Braunschweig (Saturday 12:00)
Fürth, much like Lautern, have been enjoying the last few weeks of action. While they have continued to pick up points, those around them have struggled and even a draw for the Shamrocks would take them above Aue if they are beaten. It has the potential to be a huge weekend at the wrong end of the table, and Damir Buric’s men would only be too happy to take advantage of any slip-ups. The struggle to find a regular source of goals continues as Buric switches between Fabian Reese, Serdar Dursun and David Raum. It’s still not clear who will get the nod come Saturday.
Torsten Lieberknecht hasn’t had an easy run this year, though with seven points from the last four it feels like things might be starting to turn around. A hard-fought but deserved 1-0 win over Union was much-needed and now the Lions’ have a slim chance of keeping alive any potential promotion hopes with a win over Fürth. Steve Breitkreuz and Patrick Schönfeld are both absent, although the performance of Frederik Tingager gave no reason for the visitors to be worried. With Totten Nyman looking set for a comeback into the starting eleven, a first goal since September would be welcome.
FC St. Pauli – Holstein Kiel (Sunday 12:30)
Sankt Pauli also got back on track last weekend after a snowy 1-0 win in Ingolstadt. It was far from pretty but, after three games without tasting victory, this was very much what was required. Markuz Kauczinski has enjoyed a mixed back since he has taken over yet three wins in his six mean that the Hamburg-based outfit are in prime position to launch an assault on third place. The fact that Sami Allagui got on the scoresheet will do him the world of good, and Kauczinski could line up with the same side that tasted victory in Bavaria.
Kiel, on the other hand, look like a shadow of the side that were unstoppable coming up to Christmas. The draw against Aue made it no wins in 10 and just one victory in their last 12 outings. To put that in perspective, Kiel have earned just eight points since November 18th. Markus Anfang badly needs either defence or attack to start bailing the other out but with confidence brittle, a two-goal lead is no longer the comfortable lead that the Storks previously held on to. Patrick Herrmann is back from suspension, meaning they are at full strength for what is a must win game.
SV Darmstadt 98 – 1. FC Heidenheim (Sunday 12:30)
If anyone needs a win this weekend, it’s Darmstadt. Dirk Schuster’s initial positive influence, if it can be described as that, has quickly subsided and the Lilies are now in deep relegation trouble. They are just a point above Kaiserslautern in spite of holding a 10-point advantage heading into Matchday 20. With that being eaten away, they need inspiration from somewhere. They’ll hope the home fans can spur them on as they have done in the past, though the supporters need something to get excited about. Felix Platte should lead the line after his late strike against Lautern.
Frank Schmidt and Heidenheim’s win over Bochum might have been less than inspiring, yet it was a victory that took them further away from the dropzone and closer to where FCH ended last season. John Verhoek and Marc Schnatterer were both in fine form and Kevin Müller especially, who put in a vital showing between the sticks. Timo Beermann is still absent due to a ligament injury, and Kolja Pusch’s determined midfield showing after coming on at half-time could earn him a start ahead of Marcel Titsch-Rivero.
VfL Bochum – 1. FC Nürnberg (Sunday 12:30)
In comparison to recent weeks, it’s been rather quiet around Bochum for a change. Robin Dutt’s start was far from ideal, although the Ruhrpott outfit can feel hard done by after Lukas Hinterseer’s perfectly good goal was chalked off. That said, finishing continues to be a problem for the side that have now found the back of the net less than any other. Defensively, it’s not been too bad. If Dutt can get the frontline firing this weekend and upset the league leaders, the mood will certainly change but the fans are keen on consistency as much as the one-off results have been lifting spirits.
While Fortuna might be level on points with Michael Köllner’s side, it is hard to argue against the Franconians being the best side in the league this year. A 3-1 triumph against Duisburg brought them to the summit, and a side full of strong characters won’t want to fall to second between now and May. After finally beating Bochum in 2. Bundesliga last time out, they’ll be hoping to do that once again. Köllner will be without Patrick Erras due to illness, though Kevin Möhwald’s timely return should allow Eduard Löwen to drop back and occupy that defensive role.