Schalke 04 1.70, the draw 3.55, Hannover 96 5.00
The winter break wasn’t long enough for the Royal Blues to shake off their crisis mood. One or two bad performances in friendlies, dressing room doubts about the suitability of caretaker manager Jens Keller and the loss of many first-team regulars make this game a tricky one for the home team. No Papadopoulos, no Afellay, no Jones and no Hunter might well equal no points against Hannover. Mirko Slomka has to make do without the influential Cherundolo and Stindl but the squad is deep. With their batteries recharged, an away win is possible here.
Bayern Munich 1.10, the draw 9.25, Greuther Fürth 23.50
“We are not without a chance,” said Fürth manager Mike Büskens. There’s a nice German phrase for this kind of statement: “whistling in the wood”. You hum a tune in order to feel less afraid in the dark. A full-blown choir won’t be enough to stop Bayern here, though. They have everyone bar the injured centre-back Holger Badstuber raring to go after a refreshing break in Qatar and coming back to the news of the Pep Guardiola coup. Fürth will flood the midfield and might pull off a first half without conceding but it’s impossible to see the bottom club escaping the Allianz Arena with a point.
VfL Wolfsburg 2.10, the draw 3.40, VfB Stuttgart 3.30
Bruno Labbadia is down to the proverbial bare bones here. The Swabians will be without main goalscorer Ibisevic (suspended), two right-backs (Sakai, Boka) are unavailable, as is midfield anchor Kvist. The only significant loss for the home team is centre-back Naldo, who’s suspended. Striker Bas Dost is most likely to feature as a sub, however, after overcoming a groin injury. It’ll be interesting to see how Ivan Perisic, the new arrival from Dortmund, will fare on his debut for Lorenz-Günther Köstner’s team. Both sides are masters of inconsistency but a home win is on the cards.
TSG Hoffenheim 2.45, the draw 3.30, VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach 2.80
New manager Marco Kurz is expected to replace centre-back Marvin Compper with Jannik Vestergaard, but he’ll stick with Markus Babbel’s 4-2-3-1 system and most of the former coach’s regulars. Kurz can play his strongest XI here. For Borussia, there are plenty of tactical options available. Midfield all-rounder Alexander Ring is injured (knee) but he won’t be missed too much. Lucien Favre’s side have strong options going forward. Patrick Herrmann is likely to start behind Luuk de Jong after the latter’s return to full fitness in a 4-4-1-1 but the Foals could also line up in a 4-3-3 to offer more protection on the flanks. Either way, the home team should be opposed.
Bayer Leverkusen 1.58, the draw 4.00, Eintracht Frankfurt 5.25
Bayern’s closest rivals in the table don’t see themselves as genuine contenders for the title - yet. But with a super-strong line-up and the trident of Schürrle, Castro and Kießling in full swing, they can be expected to defend their lofty position until the very end. Frankfurt will provide a stern test, however. Armin Veh’s side play a similar counter-attacking style, albeit with less defensive solidity and more freedom for the midfielders to push up. This could be a cagey affair. Leverkusen are strong favourites but will probably struggle to score too many goals. Take the unders.
Mainz 05 2.05, the draw 3.30, SC Freiburg 3.55
The two surprise outfits of the first half of the season will provide a masterclass of pressing and counter-pressing but the spectacle might well get lost in a stalemate - unless an early goal forces the issue. Mainz are favourites at home and have more quality but enforced changes in central midfield on both sides will bring an element of unpredictability. Thomas Tuchel has to bring in Polanski and Baumgartlinger for Soto and the Bayern-bound Kirchhoff, while Christian Streich will give Flum a start in place of Makiadi, who is at the Africa Cup of Nations. The absence of the elegant attacking midfielder Jan Rosenthal will also have an impact, so Mainz should just about scrape (and scrap) through at the Co-Face Arena.
Werder Bremen 4.80, the draw 3.75, Borussia Dortmund 1.67
After only seven defeats and 29 goals conceded (the second worst tally in the league), Werder manager Thomas Schaaf has realised that his 4-1-4-1 system amounted to an open door policy for the opposition. He’s been testing a double pivot formation with Clemens Fritz alongside Junozovic in the centre and is expected to stick with that formation against the champions. Marko Arnautovic is suspended, so there’s no need to leave out any of the other big guns. Dortmund welcome back Nuri Sahin. The Turkish midfielder will provide cover but won’t start here. Dortmund will be too strong, in any case.
1. FC Nürnberg 2.40, the draw 3.40, Hamburger SV 2.80
HSV’s talisman Rafael van Vaart had been doubtful but the Dutchman is fit to play after a tumultous mid-season break that saw the public break-up of his marriage. With no other serious injuries, Hamburg will be strong favourites to win at the Frankenstadion, Nürnberg’s decent home form notwithstanding. “The Club” lost manager Armin Veh to Wolfsburg, 40-year-old Michael Wiesinger will be in charge of senior club for the first time. It’s a gamble that’s unlikely to pay off, at least not in the short-run. Away win.
Fortuna Düsseldorf 2.25, the draw 3.30, FC Augsburg 3.10
This one screams superstars, amazing football and end-to-end action - or perhaps not. 13th vs 17th will be an attritional affair but in fairness to both sides, they have the capability to play some decent stuff in the final third. Augsburg will give former Sunderland man Dong-Won Ji a run-out in a 4-1-4-1 formation while Fortuna coach Norbert Meier will field Dani Schahin as the sole striker upfront. The visitors have only managed 12 goals in 17 matches this season. Will a more attacking set-up turn their season around? It seems more likely, alas, that coach Markus Weinzierl can think about an early summer holiday after the end of this one. Fortuna all the way.
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