FC Augsburg 3.10, the draw 3.40, Werder Bremen 2.20
The home side have two goals, two points, and no clue how to change things around. Key players Mölders and Koo are still injured, the new boys aren’t fully integrated and the togetherness of last season is a thing of the past. They’ll certainly give it a go on Friday night but Werder are clear favourites. Thomas Schaaf’s men are also not quite there yet - the balance between attack and defence has been a perennial problem for years - but they have an excellent frontline that will get goals on the night. Nigerian Jonathan Akpala is expected to get the nod as centre-forward ahead of the less physical Nils Petersen in the SGL Arena. Another defeat looms for Markus Weinzierl’s men here.
Schalke 04 1.42, the draw 4.30, VfL Wolfsburg 7.20
Throwing away a 2-0 lead at Düsseldorf was careless. So was throwing away a 2-1 lead against ten-man Montpellier. Now, the Royal Blues are wondering if the team is psychologically robust enough. S04 midfield trickster Julian Draxler will miss the game with a broken arm and Kyriakos Papadopoulos has chicken pox, but everyone else is on board for the return of Felix Magath, who’s got bigger problems. The Wolfsburg coach took away most of the team’s water bottles after a run through the woods as an “educational measure”, just to remind everyone why his nick-name was “Saddam” a few years ago. Schalke, despite their wobbles, should have the upper hand.
SC Freiburg 2.20, the dra1 3.35, 1 FC Nürnberg 3.15
At least “Der Club”, as Nürnberg are called locally, don’t have to worry about unrealistic expectations anymore, following three defeats on the trot. The number of individual mistakes at the back has shocked coach Dieter Hecking, and the loss of centre-back Per Nilsson poses particular problems; veteran Timmy Simonson might have to drop in from midfield or Veh will give youngster Noah Korczowski his first start. Brazilian Marcos Antonio won’t get a look in after his 16 minute horror show against Stuttgart. Freiburg will fancy their chances at home, even if confidence isn’t exactly sky-high either. They have lost two games on the trot and midfielder Karim Guede to a silly red card against Frankfurt. A narrow win should help to settle nerves for Christian Streich’s team.
Greuther Fürth 2.60, the draw 3.40, Hamburger SV 2.55
It’s tempting to say “well done, Hamburger” in light of the recent upswing, but that would be a little cheesy, pun-wise. Suffice to say that everything’s changed for the better since Rafael “little angel” van der Vaart returned in September. Ivo Illicevic (thigh) will be replaced by the more defensively minded Petr Jiracek but apart from that, Thorsten Fink can stick to the same eleven who are unbeaten in three. Greuther Fürth, conversely, have lost three out of the last four. Coach Mike Büskens is hopeful that good training sessions in midweek point to a reversal of fortunes but there are problems at either end: a continuing lack of goals would make it hard to survive their first season in the top-flight. The home side will be extremely lucky to get a point in the Trolli Arena.
Bayern Munich 1.13, the draw 7.50, TSG Hoffenheim 17.00
Trust “FC Hollywood” to plunge headlong into a bout of serious infighting after a perfect start of nine wins in a row. Sporting director Matthias Sammer (“the team are complacent”) and manager Jupp Heynckes (“we don’t need populist statements”) were in public disagreement BEFORE Bayern crashed to a surprise 3-1 defeat away to BATE in midweek. Chances are the players aren’t that concerned, however. Bayern can field their strongest team bar Mario Gomez, Arjen Robben and left-back David Alaba, although Franck Ribery is a doubt. Hoffenheim are still reeling from the life-threatening injuries to Boris Vukcevic after a horrible car accident last Friday. It’ll be tough for them to come away from Muncich with anything other than a heavy defeat.
Mainz 05 1.90, the draw 3.35, Fortuna Düsseldorf 4.05
New boys Düsseldorf finally shipped some goals against Schalke (2-2) but a spirited comeback preserved their unlikely status as the only unbeaten side along with Bayern and Frankfurt. Mainz, too, took some heart from their 2-0 away win at Wolfsburg on Sunday. Coach Thomas Tuchel has to make do without striker Eric Choupo-Mouting (meniscus tear) and could start former Bolton man Ivan Klasnic instead. But the bigger likelihood is that Szalai and Rukavytsya will partner upfront for the obdurate 05. On the other side, hotshot Daniel Schahin (four goals in six games) is certain to lead the line again for Fortuna. Norbert Meier’s side biggest strength is defence, however. A nervy, attritional battle in midfield is in store here.
Borussia Mönchengladbach 2.25, the draw 3.40, Eintracht Frankfurt 3.00
“The Foals” come into this on the back of two horror defeats: 5-0 at home to Dortmund in the league and 4-2 at home to Fenerbahce in the Europa League. Midfielder Granit Xhaka and keeper Marc-André Ter Stegen were at each other’s throats at half-time on Thursday; the whole team seems still unsettled after having their spine (Dante, Neustädter, Reus) ripped out in the summer. Frankfurt are, in many ways, the new Gladbach: an excellent counter-attacking side with great understanding. With Alex Meier in imperious form in attacking midfield, Armin Veh’s XI should get a score draw at the Borussia Park.
VfB Stuttgart 2.50, the draw 3.40, Bayer Leverkusen 2.65
These two sides can’t make up their minds whether they’re actually quite good or pretty bad. Leverkusen, to be fair, have more quality than Bruno Labbadia’s men but can’t always be trusted to perform to their true potential. Three wins in a row in all competitions would suggest that they’re developing a habit of grinding out results, though, which is sadly not something that can be said for Stuttgart, who’ve only won two of their last ten matches. Cue an away win and more crisis talk at the Mercedes Benz Arena.
Hannover 96 4.50, the draw 3.80, Borussia Dortmund 1.70
This one might well be a question of who’s more tired; Mirko Slomka’s side after beating Levante with ten man on Thursday, or the champions after pushing Manchester City close to the edge on Wednesday night? The heavy pitch in the AWD will not be conducive to good passing football, that’s for sure. This match usually delivers plenty of goals, however: there have never been less than two goals in the last 42 meetings. Dortmund have to sweat on the fitness of Mats Hummels (hip). “At the moment, I couldn’t even play (a game) of boccia,” said the defender while limping through the Etihad mixed-zone. Ilkay Gündogan (back) is also doubtful but BVB should just edge this one in any case thanks to some renewed confidence and better options on the bench.