SC Freiburg 2.00, the draw 3.40, Eintracht Frankfurt 3.55
It’s fourth against fifth on Friday night, but not as we know it, Jim - there’s still an element of surprise that both clubs are doing so well. Freiburg have simply been incredibly this season, losing only two of their last 15 matches in all competitions. Christian Streich can’t make use of right-back Veggar Eden Hedenstad - Mensur Mudjza will come in - but Jonathan Schmid will be back to feature in midfield, which gives the manager a chance to move Max Kruse into the centre of attack. In truth, however, individual changes seem to make little difference - Freiburg always perform collectively. Frankfurt, on the other hand, might struggle to score without injured striker Srdjan Lakic and will miss the subtleness of midfielder Takashi Inui (suspended). Home win.
VfB Stuttgart 2.05, the draw 3.40, 1. FC Nürnberg 3.45
The Swabians (12th) are the sole Bundesliga survivors in the Europa League after a 2-0 win in Genk on Thursday night. For their troubles, they have to play Nürnberg less than 48 hours later. Labbadia is bound to make one or two changes: only defender Georg Niedermeier is nailed on, as he was suspended in midweek. Generally speaking, Stuttgart would probably prefer to play away - they struggle to create openings against deep-lying opposition. Nürnberg (14th) are on a decent run, and could well frustrate the more talented hosts. A low-scoring draw looks plausible.
FC Bayern Munich 1.18, the draw 6.50, Werder Bremen 14.00
Let’s not say Bremen’s task is hopeless: three out of the four (!) occasions when Bayern have dropped points this season have come at home in the Allianz Arena. Marko Arnautovic, Werder’s Zlatan-lite striker, also returns to the fold; Elia will probably make way for the Austrian. But that’s really it, as far as the optimism is concerned. Jupp Heynckes will bring in Robben and Gomez, who didn’t start in London, while Thomas Schaaf has replace Greek defender Sokratis, the one player who has managed to look good at the back for the northerners in recent months. Assani Lukimya will come in. He’s strong but often a little too strong: two dismissals in eight starts point to a lack of discipline. Actually, let’s say it: it’s hopeless for Werder.
Hannover 96 2.55, the draw 3.40, Hamburger SV 2.60
At the beginning of the year it would have been hard to believe that Thorsten Fink’s side could overtake 96. Yet Hamburg have started 2013 really strongly (three wins, one draw, one defeat), while Mirko Slomka and his men have slowly lost touch with the Champions Legaue spots. The home side will feel tired after a 1-1 draw with Anzhi on Thursday, less than 48 hours before this game. Hamburg welcome back main keeper Rene Adler. The momentum points to an away win. Hannover are very good at home though (seven wins in 11), and because this is a derby, they will find extra motivation. Home win, just.
Mainz 05 2.05, the draw 3.40, VfL Wolfsburg 3.45
Wolves were completely dominated by Bayern and managed only one shot on goal last Friday night. Mainz are not quite as good but could well pose similar problems: Dieter Hecking’s side really struggle against teams who press aggressively in midfield. Individual errors at the back were to blame for the 2-2 draw with Schalke, but Mainz manager Thomas Tuchel is unlikely to make any changes to the starting line-up. The visitors have options in midfield, thanks to Ivan Perisic being available again. It’s not an easy game to call, this. Wolfsburg will play for the draw, and could get it. And there won’t be too many goals in it.
FC Augsburg 2.15, the draw 3.35, TSG Hoffenheim 3.20
“We know the relegation battle,” says FCA coach Markus Weinzierl. Do Hoffenheim, though? Against Stuttgart (0-1), nerves and a lack of creativity made for a desperately poor showing. With only one point separating Augsburg from the much wealthier TSG, Weinzierl and his men sense an opportunity to climb up to the play-off spot. Brazilian Roberto Firmino, back from suspension, will provide a bit of spark for the away team but Augsburg, who will have their key players available, will prove stronger. Home win.
Schalke 04 1.52, the draw 3.90, Fortuna Düsseldorf 6.35
An unexpectedly decent showing in Istanbul (1-1 v Galatasaray) has brought hope that the Royal Blues’ “mega-crisis” (Süddeutsche Zeitung) could be coming to an end. Key striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is also back in action, so there’s very good chance Schalke will be able to register what would be only their second league win since the beginning of November. Fortuna coach Norbert Meier is reportedly weighing up a change back to the 4-2-3-1 system, with Stefan Reisinger up top. They are hard to play against, and the longer it stays goalless, the more restless the crowd could get. The new-found confidence should help Schalke find their groove, however. Home win.
Greuther Fürth 4.35, the draw 3.50, Bayer 04 Leverkusen 1.80
Fürth have finally pulled the trigger: manager Mike Büskens was relieved of his duties in midweek. U23 coach Ludwig Preis has been promoted, but you wonder if it’s not far too late for the “Clovers”. Right-back Bernd Nehrig and CM Joszef Varga are both suspended, while regular midfielders Edgar Prib and Stephan Fürstner are doubtful. Leverkusen have a Europa League hangover (2-1 defeat at Benfica) to nurse but they’re set up for a counter-attacking game and should thrive at the Trolli Arena. Away win.
Borussia Mönchengladbach 5.20, the draw 3.65, Borussia Dortmund 1.65
The Foals crashed to a 2-0 defeat at Lazio on Thursday - too many mistakes at the back made sure they were never properly in the tie. Lucien Favre will make one or two changes after checking fitness levels in the coming days, but it looks as if this one will be all about Dortmund, anyway. Klopp’s team put in their best domestic performance of the season in the 3-0 destruction of Frankfurt, and the absence of any recognised striker - Schieber and Lewandowski are suspended - won’t hurt much either. Mario Götze will move up to play a false nine, with the outstanding Ilkay Gündogan filling in as the “10”. Anything but a high-scoring away win would be a huge surprise.
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