FC Bayern Munich 1.15, the draw 7.50, Borussia Mönchengladbach 15.00
The way this season is going, Bayern could be crowned champions in March. “We can only stop ourselves,” said Mario Gomez with the kind of lovable humility that has made the club every neutral’s firm favourite over the years.
Will the Foals spoil the party, however? Lucien Favre’s team have found some consistency after a pretty poor start. Gladbach were only beaten twice in the last 13 games (all competitions). Last season, they did the double over Bayern as well.
Of course, the home team - without Luiz Gustavo (groin), Arjen Robben (the usual mystery thigh strain) and Holger Badstuber (cruciate) are likely to win against Borussia, who have to make do without defender Alvaro Dominguez. But the odds are such that a small bet on a draw and/or away win will make sense here. If you are prepared to gamble, that is.
Bayer Leverkusen 1.60, the draw 3.80 Hamburger SV 5.50
Leverkusen’s defeat at Hannover was both puzzling and completely unnecessary. It could also provide a valuable lesson. Leverkusen are good - second in the table-good, no less - but they aren’t quite good enough to win games when they stop playing altogether.
There’ll be a reaction here: Bayer want to go in the winter break feeling good about themselves and not harking back to lost opportunities. But without Carvajal, Toprak and Reinartz, they might be a little more vulnerable than usual. HSV spent a couple of days on a mad dash to Brazil for a friendly (2-1 defeat by Gremio) last week but should be rested enough. This is one for the overs (over 2.5 at 1.72), and a narrow home win.
SpvGG Greuther Fürth 2.35, the draw 3.25, FC Augsburg 3.00
It’s the battle of the bottom two, who are both on eight points and a -17 goal difference. It goes without saying that this a must-win match for both clubs but one can’t help but think that the outcome won’t make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things: Fürth and Augsburg look like going down at the end of the season and there are significant injury problems in either camp. Backing Augsburg is advisable, despite Fürth’s home advantage: Markus Weinzierl’s side are a little better, player by player.
VfL Wolfsburg 2.10, the draw 3.40 Eintracht Frankfurt 3.35
Frankfurt are officially the surprise package of the first half of the season. Their 4-1 win over Bremen had an element of luck to it, to be fair, but with attacking linch-pin Alex Meier in brilliant form, they’re always worth a few goals.
They’ll have a problem at the Volkswagen-Arena, however. Veteran defender Heiko Butscher, a key player in the absence of Bamba Anderson, is out with a tummy bug. Vadim Demidov, who’ll come in for him, is a little dodgy: Frankfurt have only picked up one point from five games when the wooden Norwegian was on the pitch. Wolfsburg are big favourites to win here but watch out for late team news: key player Diego is doubtful with an ankle knock.
FSV Mainz 05 2.20, the draw 3.45 VfB Stuttgart 3.10
Thomas Tuchel has to bring in centre-back Jan Kirchhoff for the suspended Nikolce Noveski but Bruno Labbadia has bigger issues as there’s no right-back available after Sakai’s suspension. Youngster Antonio Rüdiger might therefore have to start his first game in this unfamiliar position.
Another option would be to switch Arthur Boka, the gaffe-prone Ivorian, to the other side. The home side will certainly create plenty of chances here and Stuttgart will score too. The battle of the two possible Stevens successors at Schalke could well end in a score draw.
Fortuna Düsseldorf 2.70, the draw 3.35 Hannover 96 2.50
Forward Robbie Kruse, a key player in recent weeks, is suspended for Fortuna and the more direct Daniel Schahin will come in for him. Coach Norbert Meier has excellent options in defence since Stelios Malezas is fit again.
Hannover can also count on the services of Karim Haggui at the back once more. Fatigue has plagued 96 in the last matches but their attitude and mental toughness has been formidable. The way they fought back to win 3-2 at home to Leverkusen last Sunday was hugely impressive. If they can bring their game face to the first half as well, they’ll win this match.
FC Schalke 04 1.67, the draw 3.65 SC Freiburg 5.00
It’s panic stations at the Royal Blues. Sporting director Horst Heldt had to deny reports that this game amounted to a “final” for manager Huub Stevens. “I’m not sure who came up with that,” he said. Fact is, S04 need a win to stave off more unrest. Midfield enforcer Jermaine Jones is suspended, centre-back Kyriakos Papadopoulos is out with a knee injury and Afellay and Farfan are still doubtful, so Christoph Moritz and Chinedu Obasi are set for rare starts.
Freiburg welcome back regular defender Diagne and midfielder Schuster and spirits couldn’t be higher at the club. An away win would see them overtake Schalke but it’s still more likely that the home team will pick themselves up for an ugly win.
1899 Hoffenheim 7.25, the draw 4.10 Borussia Dortmund 1.45
The champions are still raging about their referee-induced home defeat to Wolfsburg and poor little Hoffenheim, marooned in 16th place, could well be pay the price for the Black and Yellows’ anger. The interim coach will persist with a more defensive 4-5-1 set-up but will that be enough to stop an away team hell-bent to win? Probably not.
Skipper Sebastian Kehl is still doubtful and Lars Bender still injured but Leitner and Gündogan are more than capable to get the game rolling in the centre. Dortmund to win - at a canter.
Werder Bremen 1.80, the draw 3.45 1. FC Nürnberg 4.40
Aaron Hunt, arguably the single best performer in this Hinrunde (first half of the season) for the northerners, will be back after his calf injury and he will make the overly attack-minded side a little more solid. Thomas Schaaf could also make some changes in the full-back positions.
Nürnberg, fresh from a morale-boosting 2-0 win over Düsseldorf will be able to field Japanese magician Hiroshi Kiyotake again. Nürnberg will try to frustrate the home team and to hit them on the break. But there’ll certainly be goals: Werder’s last three games (two defeats, one win) all ended 4-1. Home win.