Only 6 more rounds remain in the Bundesliga, but there is still an awful lot left to play for in an exciting Matchday 29 chock full of derbies, including Stuttgart hosting Bayern and of course the Revierderby. The two wo relegation battles in Frankfurt vs Hoffenheim and Werder hosting Augsburg will surely be tense, while HSV, only 7 points clear of the drop, will still need to look over their shoulder as the professional away team, Darmstadt, visit. Ingolstadt hosting the high-flying Foals should be fun, and in light of Tuesday’s win over Real Madrid, Wolfsburg vs Mainz should get more attention, while Leverkusen will not want to lose ground in their jockeying for next year’s Champions League spots against the Billy Goats of Cologne.
Despite going 2 for 10 last week, and getting a couple of predictions about as right as Donald Trump gets any kind of intelligence test right, we soldier on, not unlike the chimpanzee that is driving the bus towards a cliff in this brilliant political metaphor by the Guardian’s Frankie Boyle.
1.Our first match is not for the faint of heart, or lovers of high shot volume attacking football, as Hertha (9.4 shots per game) entertain Hannover 96 (10.3 spg). I could cite a whole litany of advanced statistics – Hertha are either dead last or tied in shots from counters, danger zone passes and total shots, but Pál Dárdai’s magical mystery tour (discussed at length here) has only cared about one stat – points, of which the Berlin team has 48. This excellent tactical analysis by Tom Payne also brings up their positional and structural flexibility that hinges on the Skjelbred, Darida, Lustenberger trio. It’s not often that those 3 players come out second best, but last week’s thrashing by Gladbach was one such example, and Dárdai’s men will look to bounce back from a Hannover side that couldn’t be any more disheveled if it tried.
The 96ers finally let winter coaching appointee Thomas Schaaf go after 10 losses from 11 games (that one win is thanks to Kevin Großkreutz, who failed to mark Christian Schulz on two corners). This is a club that has gathered just 3 points since the end of November (the last time the club’s leading scorer, Artur Sobiech scored ) with a combined 13 losses from 14 games. For the curious among you I highly recommend this excellent podcast from a month ago, which features an interview around the 30 minute mark with Hannover blogger and Fanatic contributor Ansgar Locke, who goes through his team’s lowlights:
Coaches and technical directors leaving before and in the middle of the season, meaningless and/or ill-fated transfers (Szalai and Almeida have either been hurt/suspended or ineffective, Mevlüt Erdinc, anyone?), a complete lack of direction, a strange addiction to Michael “5 games” Frontzeck and fans encouraging players to tie a noose around their neck — I guess that is how you lose 78% (22 of 28) of your games…
Daniel Stendel, the 42-year-old youth team coach who made 180 appearances for die Roten takes over, having guided the U19 team to the DFB Cup final. While one could make a case, based on the success of former youth team interim managers (Jurgen Kramny, Julian Nagelsmann, Andre Schubert) in the Bundesliga this season, Hannover simply lack the talent and one suspects at this point of the season, the desire as well, to do anything spectacular. And really, who else would take on the impossible task of seeing this relegation season out? Given that the 96ers have failed to score in 8 out of their last 10 games, while Hertha have only lost once at home this season (1-4 to the Foals) take BSC to win 2:0.
2.Ingolstadt and Gladbach both have 16 points in the Rückrunde, but while the free-flowing attack of the Foals (25 goals scored in that span) has captivated Bundesliga fans, it’s all been about efficiency for die Schänzer, with 4 wins, 4 draws and 3 losses. Still undefeated at home in 2016, the FCI defense (best in the Bundesliga with 10 Danger Zone passes allowed all season!) is only allowing 11 shots per game and frustrating visitors. Most Bundesliga fans already know about the excellent duo of Marvin Matip and Benjamin Hübner in the center , but it is last week’s performance by fullbacks Danny da Costa and Robert Bauer against Schalke (a team with similar attacking depth on the wings to BMG) that should make for a great matchup against Borussia.
Coming off the 5-0 destruction of Hertha, the Foals are trying to improve on their dismal away form with 11 points from 13 matches and losing 5 of their last 6 road games. With Thorgan Hazard having the game of his life and Patrick Herrmann and André Hahn boosting the squad with goals after returns from long-injury spells, Gladbach did not miss Raffael, who along with his 7 away goals, unfortunately won’t be making the trip to Ingolstadt. The task of replacing arguably one of the 5 best attacking players in the Bundesliga this season will have to be done by committee – and with the Dahoud, Stindl, Hahn, Hazard quartet limited to just 2 goals and 5 assists in away matches – it looks to be a difficult one against a quality defensive team in Ingolstadt. Given Ingolstadt’s stinginess in their own box and the propensity for Hahn (ratio of 2.5 shots inside the box for every 1 outside the box), Stindl ( 2 to 1 ratio for Gladbach) Dahoud (3 to 1) and Hazard (2.5 to 1) to shoot from close range, Gladbach might just get the short end of the stick in this one.
The anemic offense of FCI that managed just 11 Hinrunde goals has blossomed in the spring, with 15 goals thus far in 11 matches, with Lukas Hinterseer on a 5 goal scoring streak despite only starting 3 of those games, and Moritz Hartmann chipping in with 5 Rückrunde goals. Dario Lezcano also has 2 goals in his last 3 games and was instrumental in the win against Schalke, drawing a penalty, scoring a goal, winning 17 tackles! and ruining the life of Junior Caicara, who had been one of the better Bundesliga right backs. That does not exactly bode well for a Gladbach defense that A) has conceded 28 goals in just 13 away matches B) is full of relatively inexperienced players and C) is liable to do this
We are also contractually obligated (via our first row seat on the Pascal Groß bandwagon) to mention the Bundesliga leading 70 key passes of Pascal “potential Gündogan replacement” Groß, as well as the emergence of recent Germany U21 call-up 19-year-old Max Christiansen, which meant that Alfredo Morales, one of the worst midfielders in the Hinrunde has thankfully only played 250 minutes in the Rückrunde. Their third central midfielder, the Brazilian Roger, leads the Bundesliga in being fouled, with 2.9 per game and averages 2.5 interceptions as well.
I hope I sufficiently made my case for an Ingolstadt home win.
3.Wolfsburg vs Mainz sets up as an excellent game and this weekend’s Top Spiel in light of recent developments: Die Wölfe, currently on 38 points, famously downed Real Madrid at home, thanks to Bruno Henrique’s game of his life and some unorthodox tactics by Dieter Hecking, who even had time to get into a spat with Marcelo for his shameless acting. Mainz, sitting pretty in 6th place, also have been getting some recognition and not only for their former coaches Klopp and Tuchel -whose meetings might seriously turn into a holiday at this point, such is the level of adulation by the media – but for the performance of their current manager, Martin Schmidt who has taken them to the brink of the Champions League. With 6 games still to play, the 05ers have now earned more points this season than in 6 of their last 9 season, per Bundesliga.com and, being the league’s 5th best away team, will look to take points from the 5th best home team in Wolfsburg.
Mainz will also be boosted by the return of Jairo Samperio, and Pablo de Blasis’ brace has probably earned him a starting spot with Yunus Malli, who picked up 2 assists in his last 2 games despite a quiet Rückrunde, and Jhon Cordoba up top. Despite losing Muto’s 7 goals and Malli only scoring 2 in the spring, Mainz has kept up the scoring with 15 of their 16 Rückrunde goals being scored by the Malli, Baumgartlinger, De Blasis, Jairo, Clemens, Cordoba sextet. Their 3 man defensive midfield rotation of Fabian Frei, averaging 7.5 defensive actions per 90 in the spring, Danny Latza, a team high 14 key passes and Julian Baumgartlinger, his first two career goals and trademark rugged defending, has been massive.
There is also tremendous depth in the back for Mainz. With the addition of left back Gaetan Bussmann over the winter break, and the emergence of Alexander Hack in the center (all 7 appearances since late November) the defense has also tightened up, only allowing 12 goals in 11 matches since the turn of the new year. Daniel Brosinski had his best game of the season at right back in last week’s 4-2 win over Augsburg, and Giulio Donati is a more than capable replacement. Niko Bungert has been a club mainstay with over 160 appearances, Leon Balogun has already played over 1200 very solid minutes this season before succumbing to a hamstring injury in mid-March that he is still recovering from and captain Stefan Bell has played over 2000 minutes in each of the last 3 seasons. That’s 7 quality defensive players and we haven’t even mentioned their starting left back from the Hinrunde, Pierre Bengtsson, who is yet to feature in the spring despite close to 1300 minutes in the fall.
Wolfsburg know a thing or two about injuries, with Bas Dost (who is somehow still the leading goalscorer, despite ZERO Rückrunde minutes), Naldo (who just recently returned), Diego Benaglio, Sebastian Jung and Luiz Gustavo all missing significant time this year. Daniel Caligiuri is the latest addition with an adductor injury, while Sebastian Jung is done for the year. The biggest blow to VfL is not an injury, but the suspension (yellow card accumulation) of Julian Draxler, whose 4 goals (compared to 1 Hinrunde goal) and 1.74 key passes per 90 will sorely be missed.
André Schürrle, who is now on somewhat of a visit your former club tour, Mainz after Leverkusen, has 5 goals in the Rückrunde – only Claudio Pizarro and Robert Lewandowski (10), Lord Wagner (8) and Raffael (7) have more. His 4 shots per 90 minutes puts him behind Auba, Lewy and Robben and proves that contrary to popular opinion, he did not just have one amazing game (the hat-trick against Hannover) but is actually, once again, a very productive player.
With Maxi Arnold impressing against Real Madrid, Vieirinha’s creativity and Max Kruse’s abilities (on the football pitch that is) Wolfsburg still should have enough to earn a draw againt a pesky Mainz team.
4. Stuttgart vs Bayern would have been one hell of a game about 3-4 weeks ago, when VfB were obliterating teams, but they have gone 1W 2D and 3L in their last six and looked flat in each of the games I watched closely (versus, Gladbach, Ingolstadt, Leverkusen, and Darmstadt). It’s been 15 games since the club let go of Alexander Zorniger and promoted Jürgen Kramny and after an initial scorcher of a run (a 5 game winning streak), things have cooled off quite a bit, with just 5 points from 6 matches.
The problems are multi-faceted: Przemyslaw Tyton (spelling his name correctly on the first try without Google is sign no. 234 that you watch too much Bundesliga) has reverted to being terrible after a brief hot spell and is still sporting a 65% save percentage (70 is avg) that is only above the disaster known as Felix Wiedwald’s 62%. The defense, which has conceded 56 times altogether, (2nd worst again behind Werder’s 57) does not look to have improved under Kramny, with 25 goals shipped in 15 games. Technically, if we take the low-bar of conceding 4 goals in 40 minutes in the Hinrunde fixture vs Bayern, they are probably better. Emiliano Insua has probably been their most consistent defender, but he ranks 94th out of 112 defenders in Squawka’s seasonal rankings (min. 10 appearances), still 10 spots above the Florian Klein + Timo Baumgartl duo. Daniel Schwaab is no. 90 on the list, while Georg Niedermeier (42nd), who replaced poor Baumgartl after a dreadful Hinrunde, was suspended for the game against Darmstadt. Toni Sunjic, who was Niedermeier’s replacement lasted just 21 minutes due to a head injury but should be good to go on Saturday. Winter signing and former Dortmund veteran Kevin Großkreutz is out with a thigh injury and Serey Dié, whose awful back pass released Sandro Wagner last week on goal to give Darmstadt the lead is now done for the season. The Ivorian is the only proven defensive midfielder in the squad, and while he has not had a very good season by any stretch of the imagination, his distribution (84% pass accuracy is a very solid 20th in the league among all midfielders) and leadership will be missed. 22-year-old Empoli defender Federico Barca might make his debut, if Kramny does indeed opt for a 5 line defense as suggested by several fans.
Daniel Didavi, despite 10 goals on the season (more on this in an upcoming future later this month) has been rather underwhelming. The midfielder has taken just 3 shots and scored 1 penalty goal in the last month in 222 minutes and is goalless otherwise since Feb 6th. The announcment of his controversial switch to Wolfsburg at the end of the season (details here) suggest that his mind is probably elsewhere.
The offense, however, is still humming, with 23 goals in the Rückrunde, thanks to Filip Kostic, who leads all players with 28 key passes in the spring. The Serbian, properly motivated by a doubling of his salary, has been reborn under Kramny, with all 5 of his goals and 5 assists coming since the former youth trainer took over. Alex Maxim, despite only 775 minutes this season leads the league with 3.14 key passes per 90 minutes and Lukas Rupp (another bright spot) has chipped in with 3 goals in his last 4 games. It’s easy to forget, but despite Didavi’s quiet spring and the lack of a true striker (since losing Daniel Ginczek to an ACL injury in mid October), this team still averages almost 16 shots per game – they are so on par with Dortmund that both have taken 437 shots total. Timo Werner, who just turned 20 in March, is contributing 2.3 shots per game and should probably have 12 instead of 6 goals if he just finished all the chances that Kostic has created him. So, this is how you lose to Hannover…
Bayern have been a hard team to gauge in the Rückrunde. The news of Pep’s departure at season’s end coupled with a never-really threatened lead over BvB has created a scenario when one never knows if the team is disinterested, resting, and/or saving itself for other competitions. Injuries to Jerome Boateng, Javi Martinez and Holger Badstuber have decimated the defense, while David Alaba and Joshua Kimmich have looked shaky at times against elite European competition. Thomas Müller has only 5 goals compared to 14 in the Hinrunde and Arjen Robben, who has taken 5 shots per 90 in the Rückrunde, compared to 3.5 in the Hinrunde might miss the rest of the season. The Douglas Costa annihilation tour has been toned down — 2.27 shots per 90 compared to 3.46 in the Hinrunde, and he is averaging .5 key passes fewer as well, with just 2 assists against 7. Even the mighty Robert Lewandowski is down 1 shot per match (5.1 from 6.1 /90) and has “just” scored 10 goals against 15 before winter break.
On the plus side, aside from the aforementioned Robben, Franck Ribéry (16 minutes of Hinrunde action) and Arturo Vidal have both stepped it up while Alonso and Thiago have remained consistently excellent. Manuel Neuer has had 2-3 hairy moments, but is basically still the world’s best keeper with 18 clean sheets and a stunning 80% save percentage.
There won’t be a clean sheet on Saturday, with Bayern likely to give Götze, Rode, Rafinha and several others some minutes ahead of a return leg in Portugal next week, but the defending champs should still have enough firepower against a hapless Stuttgart defense for an away win.
5. HSV vs Darmstadt – it’s a bit harder to muster up the energy to get excited about this one, but we shall give it a go. Bruno Labbadia is still tinkering to find an ideal XI and a striker. Sven Schipplock, the 4th option after Pierre Lasogga, Artjom Rudnevs and Josip Drmic, will probably get the nod after a nice performance that included 2 assists against Hannover, but among HSV fans there are even discussions of playing Nico Müller and his 8 goals or Michael Gregoritsch and his 193cms up front. Recently the team’s offense has not been that bad, with 11 goals in 6 games. It’s also a good sign that HSV, who average 11.5 shots per game have averaged 15 a game in their last 4 matches and Darmstadt have allowed the 4th most shots in the Bundesliga. The Lilies are also on an 8 game winless streak and if it weren’t for Sandro Wagner scoring 9 of their last 14 games they’d probably be as good as relegated. Marcel Heller’s yet to score after 6 Hinrunde goals and the team lacks an alternative, despite 15 goals from set pieces. There is a slim chance that Aytac Sulu can add his 7th away goal of the season to give Darmstadt another big away performance, but the reality is that HSV should take care of business.
6. Werder vs Augsburg looks like a loser leaves town match between two teams with a combined 2 points from each of their last 3 matches. Hosts Bremen appear to have a leg up with 28 points to FCA’s 27, but are going be without Claudio Pizarro and his 12 goals and the suspended Papy Djilobodji – easily 2 of their 5 best players. The goals will have to come from Anthony Ujah – just 2 so far in the Rückrunde, after 7 Hinrunde goals, but will probably come from Fin Bartels or Zlatko Junuzovic whose 5 combined goals already surpassed their 4 from the fall. The Austrian in particular has posted an impressive 3.25 key pass/90 ratio (2 in the Hinrunde) and has the skill and form to unlock a weak Augsburg defense.
FCA also have further troubles with Ja-Cheol Koo and Markus Feulner suspended. The absence of the Korean’s 5 Rückrunde goals is devastating, considering their total of 14 so far. Paul Verhaegh and Jan Morávek are also out, which could further destabilize a defense that has already conceded 21 goals in 11 games and with the reliance on the Altintop, Bobadilla, Finnbogason and Caiuby foursome, things could get dicy for Markus Weinzierl (rumored to be a favorite for the Schalke job). While a Bremen home win has been a rarity (2 out of 13 this season), it is still our pick. You’re welcome Nik Wildhagen!
7.Eintracht against Hoffenheim rounds out the relegation matches and the Saturday fixtures in a battle of two teams with in-season managerial changes. Julian Nagelsmann, the 28-year-old has been an instant success with 14 points in just 8 matches – it has taken him just 2 months to take the same amount of points as the previous two coaches got in 20 games!
His counterpart, Niko Kovac’s 3 points from 3 games, with just 1 goal scored, leaves a little to be desired, though it’s not entirely his fault. With 5 goals in just 6 matches, veteran striker Alex Meier was well on his way to double his 7 goals from the Hinrunde, but a knee injury has seen him sidelined since late February, and Eintracht have scored just 2 goals in those 6 games since. Marc Stendera has dropped off in the spring and Szabolcs Huszti and Marco Fabián have faded after a couple of solid performances early in the Rückrunde. Haris Seferovic has been so ineffective that Dutch forward Luc Castagnos, who has played 1100 fewer minutes, has more goals (4 to 3) than the Swiss striker. Those 4 in 700 minutes would be nice if they had not come in the 6-2 and 4-1 thrashings of Cologne and Zorniger-era Stuttgart in
the fall Paleozoic era. With Leverkusen, Mainz, Dortmund still on their remaining schedule die Adler must win against Hoffenheim if they are to avoid relegation.
Hoffenheim’s aforementioned hot streak under Nagelsmann has seen them score 13 and concede 14, a gigantic upgrade over their actual -13 goal difference, but as Michael Caley’s expected goals model suggests, putting them at -13, it’s highly unsustainable, as the team still allows the most shots in the Bundesliga. With Meier injured, I just don’t see Eintracht having enough firepower to bother an improved defense (Süle and Bicakcic have been very solid) and the 4th best goalkeeper in the Bundesliga, Oliver Baumann (73.5 save percentage). With 3 goals and 2 assists in their last 5 matches, Kevin Volland is regaining his early season form that saw him score 5 goals before November, while Mark Uth and Andrej Kramaric (on loan from Leicester) have scored 7 times already in the Rückrunde. With a Hertha, Gladbach and Ingolstadt trio of fixtures upcoming, Hoffenheim will need to get a result in Frankfurt. They will, though, as we are picking them to take all 3 points from the Commerzbank-Arena.
8.Cologne vs. Leverkusen is the second of the Sunday derbies, both in terms of time and importance. The Rhine derby hosts Cologne have been among the worst Rückrunde teams with just 10 points from 11 matches. While they have not done anything egregious in terms of statistics, the Billy Goats have never had a big margin for error, thanks to their low-scoring offense which relies heavily on Anthony Modeste (4 Rückrunde goals compared to 7 pre-winter break) and their solid defense (14 conceded compared to 21) which relies on the excellent Timo Horn, 2nd in save % with 76. They still have their strengths in a decent
law firm central defensive pairing of Dominic and Dominique – Maroh and Heintz and two excellent wingers/wingbacks in Jonas Hector and Marcel Risse. Leonardo Bittencourt has enjoyed a nice little 4 game run of 3 goals and great key passes (the one vs. Hoffenheim to set up Modeste comes to mind) and Simon Zoller finally played and picked up his 6th goal last week.
Die Werkself, on the other hand, have rebounded nicely from the Roger Schmidt induced tailspin after the loss to BVB and have now taken 18 points from 11 matches, including 10 in the last 6 after a 3 game losing streak almost ballooned to 4 (before a furious 0-3 comeback against Augsburg). It’s not exactly a very original excuse, but injuries have been the biggest bugaboo for Bayer. Despite Lars Bender and Charles Aranguiz returning last week, there are still 6 players not fit for this match. Looking at their Hinrunde and Rückrunde splits, Chicharito’s 11 goal one man show has been supplanted by a much more balanced variety act of Hakan Calhanoglu (whose shot accuracy has shot up from 47 to 67% ) and Julian Brandt, who has had consecutive games with goals, man of the match and team of the week honors. Admir Mehmedi and Karim Bellarabi’s 5 assists each are also well-distributed in a 3 to 2 ratio. André Ramalho and Ömer Toprak have similarly split the center back duties with over 8 defensive actions on average next to impressive youngster Jonathan Tah.
Taking Cologne’s recent run of form, and their subpar home record (16pts from 14 games), and adding it to Leverkusen’s recent hot streak and their 3rd best 21 away points results adds up to a Werkself win at the RheinEnergieStadion. Don’t be surprised if the Julian Brandt show continues!
9-10. Unlike the schedule of Matchday 29, we save the best for last: The Revierderby, which was one of the better matches of the Hinrunde and is kind of a big deal: http://www.bundesliga.com/en/bundesliga-tv/blmd29v-revierderby-unique-look-at-emotional-fixture.jsp
Visitors Dortmund have statistically been the best team of the Rückrunde with 29 of a possible 33 points and will even have their 1-1 draw against Liverpool for further motivation. Yes, Aubameyang has cooled off, with only 5 of his 23 goals coming in the Rückrunde, as did Marco Reus (2 of 10), and Ilkay Gündogan is still uncertain, and Adrian Ramos might also be doubtful after missing the Liverpool match, but this is still a juggernaut of a team for Thomas Tuchel. They will be fine.
Schalke, despite recently losing 2 out of 3, have taken 17 pts out of 11 matches and find themselves on the outside of European play looking in, in 7th place losing the goal difference tie with Mainz. Andre Breitenreiter remains firmly on the hot seat, as his inability to pick a consistent starting XI has exacerbated the lack of development by players like Leroy Sané. This weekend, it appears that Belhanda, Schöpf and Huntelaar are all back in the starting lineup, with Franco di Santo and Max Meyer heading to bench. (The Meyer/Schöpf situation is in flux) Leon Goretzka is injured and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg will deputize for him. Schalke are a very good home side, but as this season and the 3-1 loss to Werder proves, they can still put up shocking performances and will ultimately come up short in the Revierderby.
Thus the two predictions for this game are: a high intensity match with over 4 goals and – a Dortmund win with a goal scored by a defender
Let us know what you think by leaving a comment!
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