Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Return of Patrick Helmes

It’s been a tough season for Patrick Helmes. In-fact, it has been a tough few seasons for the Wolfsburg striker. Having scored four goals in five, this is a player who is getting back to his best. It’s been a long time in coming for a forward who once threatened to be one of Germany’s best and perhaps even challenge the likes of Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez in the national side.

His rise to fame was a difficult one. He didn’t just burst onto the scene; instead his first successes were in the lower leagues. In the 2004/05 season he hit 21 goals in 34 games for Sportfreunde Siegen and helped the club gain promotion to the 2.Bundesliga. After that blast of goals, Helmes returned to FC Cologne where he had previously played youth and under-17 football. Over the next three seasons he would follow Cologne down to the second division himself before firing the goals to help get them back again, alongside Milivoje Novakovic.

Patrick Helmes with Cologne strike partner Milivoje Novakovic

With 31 goals in two seasons with Cologne, Helmes was certainly getting noticed by other clubs and ones not too far away. Having moved to neighbours Bayer Leverkusen in the summer of 2008, the striker started to his hit best run of form. He formed a partnership with Stefan Kiessling but it was Helmes who was the main goal outlet for Leverkusen. He scored over a third of the teams goals that season and was the clubs top scorer.

He’d already made his debut for Germany by that point, but any progress with the national team and with Leverkusen was cut short as he was hit by a serious injury. While on his summer holiday, he ruptured a cruciate ligament and this kept him out of the side until November of 2009. As a result, Helmes lost his place to Eren Derdiyok and was left to mainly making appearances from the bench.

Patrick Helmes' arrival at Wolfsburg

No surprise then, that he made a move away from the Werkself to Wolfsburg. At the time under Steve McClaren, Wolfsburg desperately needed goals but there was to be some early disruption to life in Niedersachsen. Just a week after arriving at the club, Steve McClaren was fired and Felix Magath took charge once more at the Volkswagen Arena. Not the most stable of starts for Helmes at his new club. He managed eight games between his move and the end of the season and chipped in with a solitary goal during that time.

But having settled in and had a full pre-season under Felix Magath, Helmes got off to the best of starts in this campaign with two goals on the opening day against his hometown club Cologne. That was the first of only two away victories so far this season for Wolfsburg, the second came recently in Nuremberg and guess who scored…Patrick Helmes. But that only tells half the story of this season as he spent much of this season ostracised at Volkswagen Arena by Magath. The boss had complained about his tracking back, levied a large fine and dropped him to the second team. His time with Wolfsburg II was pretty eventful as well. His record reads: 1 Game, 1 Goal and 1 Red Card.

Having spent almost 6-months out of the first team, Helmes was back in the side at the end of February and scored from the penalty spot on his return against Hoffenheim. Since then, three more goals have followed but what does this say about his future? The public attitude of Helmes and Magth is one that suggests that they have put their differences aside, but also this could be more of a functional relationship that suits both parties. Wolfsburg could do with Helmes’ goals to help them grab a place in the Europa League and for the player himself, doing that could be the perfect shop window for another move. At 28, he is probably hoping that the next move will be his most successful and his last.

The Bundesliga Show Episode 58 – Bundesliga and European Competition Special

This week on The Bundesliga Show it is a domestic and European action special. Jon Hartley and Terry Duffelen pick through the action from Matchday 27, but also turn their attention to Europe as well. On the show is Andrew Gibney from French Football Weekly to give the lowdown on Bayern Munich’s Champions League opponents Olympique Marseille.

Plus there is a trip down memory lane from European competition from a German football event called Torwort.

All change at Kaiserslautern

With Krasimir Balakov replacing Marco Kurz as coach of Kaiserslautern, Terry Duffelen asks why the Red Devils have made a change with such a short time remaining in the season. 

At the risk of stating the obvious, sixteen games without a win can take its toll on a team’s confidence and in any league a coach is unlikely to survive such a dismal run, even if he has signed a new contract only a few months earlier. Such was the fate of Marco Kurz who waved goodbye to his Kaiserslautern team less than a season after guiding them to seventh in the final Bundesliga table.

While defensively solid, ‘Lautern’s problems were a lack of pace and invention when moving the ball forward. Striker Srjdan Lakic and Ivo Ilicevic left in 2011 and no one was able to effectively replace them. Only Christian Tiffert could be regarded as a player of genuine quality in an attacking sense. The Red Devils are a frugal club and new players need to be  developed fairly rapidly and on the cheap. This is not a club that does not like to write too many cheques.

Clearly the results were not good enough and Kurz was unable to regenerate his squad in the way that Dieter Hecking has done at Nürnberg when Mehmet Ekici and Ilkay Gundogan moved on. This must be one of the reasons why Kurz was dismissed.

The tragedy is that the erstwhile trainer was given the backing of Sporting Director Stefan Kuntz only last year when his contract was extended. While few people expected Kaiserslautern to emulate their achievements of last season, fewer still imagined that they would be rock bottom of the table. Usually when a coach is dispensed with this close to the end of the season there is a belief that someone can do a better job for the remaining fixtures and generate a bounce of sufficient height to lift them out of danger.

But Kaiserslautern have looked truly grim and you feel it would take a miracle for them to avoid relegation, no matter who took the job. So the question is why dispense with a coach with a proven track record in the second division at a time when he is likely to be needed next season? Why not simply stick with the coach that go you promoted in the first place and hope for the best while planning for the worst?

You have to wonder if Kaiserslautern’s need to stay in the first division is so great that relegation is simply not an option. Perhaps the club’s finances depend on them retaining top flight status. If that is the case then replacing Kurz would be a last throw of the dice. One option available to them was to activate the bat signal and call for a super hero to rescue them in the short term.  That way the club the chance to take stock in the summer before making a longer term choice? The appointment of Krasimir Balakov however,  suggests that the club is thinking of the longer term.

The former Bulgarian international midfielder is one of the heroes of the 1994 World Cup team that reached the semi-final of that tournament. He made 236 appearances for Stuttgart from 1995 to 2003 and started his coaching career at the old Neckarstadion, as an assistant to Matthias Sammer and Felix Magath. Having taking head coach jobs for Grasshopper,  St Gallen and Chernomorets Burgas he arrived in Croatia to manage Hadjuk Split in 2011 where he won twelve of his twenty three matches in charge.  He was linked with the job at Hertha BSC, as a replacement for Michael Skibbe  but the Berlin club chose to appoint Otto Rehhagel instead.

While Balakov’s appointment sounds OK for the future it offers few guarantees in the short term. Perhaps the truth is that Kurz had lost the confidence of the club and even the players. It may be that they arrived at the conclusion that for as long at Marco Kurz remains in charge, Kaiserlautern are going nowhere except down.

From that perspective the decision to sack Kurz makes sense and Balakov seems a reasonable replacement. Kaiserslautern face, fellow relegation candidates Freiburg, Hamburg and Hoffenheim in their next three fixtures. If (and it’s a big ‘if’) they can glean six or seven points from these games then the situation will not look anything like as bleak.

 

The Bundesliga Show Episode 57 – Kaiserslautern Say Goodbye to Marco Kurz

This week on The Bundesliga Show, Terry Duffelen and Jon Hartley discuss the departure from Kaiserslautern of coach Marco Kurz and the clubs prospects in the relegation battle.

Also in the show, all the action from Matchday 26 including victories for all the teams in the top six and some crucial wins in the relegation battle for Augsburg and Freiburg.

All that and wrap up of what happened in the Second Division.

Poker Face: Heynckes v The Pretenders

A Wave Goodbye?

Despite an amazing run of recent form, Bayern have suffered some key losses this season. Kyle Barber, investigates.

So far this season, Jupp Heynckes has fallen foul of six domestic defeats. That tally represents just one fewer than last season’s total, and could scarcely have looked further away during their eponymous run of 1,147 minutes without conceding so much as a goal, let alone three points. The opening round 1-0 reversal to ‘Gladbach was quickly cast as a mere speed bump on the inevitable road back to Bundesliga triumph. After all, the long-sought Manuel Neuer had joined, Robben and Ribéry posed the most vibrant wide threat inEurope, and the much-vaunted Jupp Heynckes had returned to revise the shadows that still clouded the end of his previous tenure, in 1991.

However, in retrospect that 1. Spieltag defeat offered portent for similar results yet to come. Thus far in 2011-12, Bayern have registered 16 wins, garnering 51 points, and finding the net on 58 occasions (at a ratio of 2.32 goals per game). However, the Bavarians have regularly found periods of promising form punctuated by debilitating defeats. Over the six losses sustained, the Bavarians have leaked 12 goals, managing just four themselves. And perhaps more concerning, each of those occasions has seen them tactically outmanoeuvred, with creativity stifled, and Plan B conspicuous by its absence.

There is little dispute that, man-for-man, Bayern have the standout starting eleven and squad in the Bundesliga. Yet the common thread running through their league losses is that they have all been to sides bossed by coaches regarded as being both tactically and sequentially astute. Cast against the dogmatic – bordering on stubborn – commitment to personnel and formation nominally adopted by Heynckes has appeared tired and archaic. By restricting the time and space afforded to Bayern’s wide men – from the more robust man-to-man marking shown by Dortmund in their victory at the Allianz Arena on Matchday 13; to the attacking verve employed by Mainz that forced them back into unfamiliar areas of the field just one week later – coupled with a disciplined back four (reinforced by at least one holding central midfielder) in all instances, opponents have limited Bayern’s principal routes of attack to looking distinctly prosaic.

As a result, the energy and creativity of the likes of Schweinsteiger and Kroos is rendered redundant. The expectation then to perform, whether home or away and brought largely by the weight of history, lends itself to Bayern invariably over-committing. Set a natural 4-4-2, or more fluid 4-2-3-1, against that – mounted on pace through the front two or three and a pivotal figure in the central midfield berth (think Reus and Arango for ‘Gladbach, or Pinto and Rausch for Hannover) – and the exposure to a vibrant counter-attack has proved stark.

There were further signs of the Bavarian’s potential for a readily-blunted attack last season. With eight draws, only four teams recorded more – they had already displayed a propensity for being stopped. The subsequent decision to reinforce their backline rather than enhance their attacking options was understandable (they shipped 40 goals during their league campaign – 18 more thanDortmund), but missed a real source of limitation that has since come to the fore. Heynckes apparent reticence to adapting his approach in respect of the opposition merely serves to add to the evident frustrations both on and off the pitch, casting an exasperation in him that then accentuates the pressure on his players, increasing the tension which further hinders the talents at his disposal.

Four of a Kind?

Aces in the Pack

Thomas Tuchel

Thomas Tuchel is some 28 years the junior of Jupp Heynckes. Yet the Mainz Head Coach is swiftly establishing a burgeoning reputation for tactical acumen, coupled with a style of football that epitomises the definition of being greater than the sum of its constituent parts. Having taken charge of first team affairs ahead of the 2009-10 season, Tuchel imbedded a dogmatic work ethic amongst his squad, with no little skill and an eye for youth development. His second campaign saw him quickly face down any remaining sceptics by leading Mainz to a sequence of seven straight wins.

Tuchel is widely touted as the ultimate successor to Heynckes, principally for reasons mused by the venerable Rafael Hönigstein: “Mainz are created in their manager’s image – young, eager players happy to learn new things. And teach rivals a few too”!

Mirko Slomka

Mirko Slomka parallels Tuchel in a notable number of ways, not least amongst which is his adoption of the counter-attack as his weapon of choice. His tenure at Hannover has been prefaced by a need to use the tools at his disposal. Yet, with a limited transfer fund, he has turned a 17th placed side into one still creating waves in second-tier European competition, and all in a little over two years. The perfect balance of a resolute back four – one noted for its parsimonious nature – and a fluid attacking verve, spearheaded by Mohammed Abdellaoue and Didier Ya Konan, has become an identifying factor of the team. As has the implementation of Slomka’s defining ‘ten second rule’ – whereby the team must work hard for ten seconds to directly regain possession after losing is, before reverting to two banks of four. Such was epitomised in their Matchday 10 win, where they covered some 6km more than Bayern, and were restricted to just 37% of the ball.

Lucien Favre

Having taken charge of ‘Gladbach on Valentine’s Day last year, it would be no exaggeration to say the love affair between Club and Head Coach is still very much in its veritable honeymoon phase. Still justifiably able to be considered part of the title race, the pairing have also held something of an Indian sign over Bayern during their time together. As the only side to take maximum points from the Bavarians this year (so far), the feel good factor engendered in his squad by the Swiss tactician has been at its most evident through the countering style built around the machinations and undoubted talents of Marco Reus. There is a growing degree of upper-hierarchical support for Favre at Bayern, with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge having touted the 54-year old this time last year.

Robin Dutt

At the end of last season, Robin Dutt was the immediate choice to follow Heynckes into the principal role at the helm in Leverkusen. Cast forth nine months, and there is a growing groundswell of opinion that sees him as doing the same once more at Bayern. The attentive and aggressive way he set his side up to directly match Bayern recently in their 2-0 win will have done much to impress both Munich fans and higher echelons. In that game, Leverkusen matched Bayern on shots and territory – albeit with a more direct style – and showed a good deal more endeavour (covering some 7km more over the course of the 90 minutes). The direct 4-2-3-1 like-for-like formation may also have suggested he has the formative ability to use the tools that would be immediately at his disposal. And the shark-like manner in which he sought to capitalise on Bayern’s humiliation in their away tie to Basel will also have appealed, as will his more amiable relationship with – and handling of – Michael Ballack. One element that may count against him, though, could be the rather more lacklustre surrender yielded in the 3-0 vohr-ründe loss in the reverse fixture on Matchday 7.

The Joker

Jürgen Klopp

Joker in the Pack

In amongst all the wider considerations as to who may be next in the Bayern hotseat is the proverbial ‘Joker’: the irrepressible Jürgen Klopp. To continue the metaphorical references; Klopp is the ‘elephant-in-the-room’ when it comes to who the Bayern top-brass would truly like to don the head trainer’s tracksuit. Moreover, he is also the predominant choice amongst the fans, and the likely retention of the Bundesliga title this term will do little to assuage that desire. In that vein, Klopp’s achievements and heraldry tells more than the bare facts: Dortmund’s success underlines Bayern’s relative failure. It also shows that they are no longer the overbearing domestic force; unable to simply buy-up the resources of their greater opposition, nor cherry-pick the best National talent – accentuated by Reus’s decision to head Northeast to them, rather than South to Munich.

The Here and Now

It’s not all negative for Heynckes and his players though by any means – they’re some nine points better off than at this stage last term; have scored more; conceded less; and sit just five points offDortmund, rather than the 19 of 2010-11. And when the likes of Gomez, Ribéry, Robben, Müller and Schweinsteiger are firing, Bayern invariable triumph. That was certainly underlined by their midweek annihilation of Basel, as well as the 13 league goals they’ve registered since the debilitation of losing to Leverkusen. Some of the problems which have manifested this term are also rooted in the changes in management over the last 12 months, and the disagreement fostered amid the Bayern hierarchy.

Indeed, there is some thought that Heynckes failure would please certain areas of that senior group, with his appointment seen by many as having been motivated by a polar reaction to the approach adopted by predecessor Louis van Gaal. The Dutchman had been cited as the archetypal tactician, but had a method that ruffled more than few feathers. In contrast, Heynckes offered a more grounded, tender approach that was intended to restore the feel good factor to both the dressing room and training ground. Yet even at that stage – and as reported by Bild this past week – the names of Slomka and Favre were also in the frame, but were debarred from further consideration due to their relative anonymity amongst the casual fan, and global standing (not to mention the political determinations of the Munich ‘upstairs’; with it being seen as Rummenigge’s turn to pick after Uli Hoeneß’s choice – Heynckes – failing to meet expectations). Hoisted by their own petard 12 months ago, Bayern could easily find themselves in the same predicament once more; especially should they land their ultimate goal this year, and lift the Champions’ League trophy in their very own back yard.

Babbel’s Bubble Bursting

Matthias Suuck takes a look at the lacklustre start to life at Hoffenheim for new coach Markus Babbel.

When Markus Babbel was introduced as the new manager of TSG Hoffenheim both the club and its fans were hoping for animprovement over the lackluster performances the team had been producing under Holger Stanislawski. Needless to say, the hoped for effect has not quite taken hold. After his first six matches in charge, the team has produced only one win, while compiling three uninspired draws and two losses. The one victory was against the wildly inconsistent VfL Wolfsburg and two of the draws came against Mainz and Cologne, both of which should have been defeated given Hoffenheim’s aspirations of being a top six caliber club. Everybody, of course, knows what happened when Hoffenheim faced Bayern and an early lack of inspiration doomed them against local rivals Stuttgart.

The one shocking (at least for some) point was that the team has seemed no more enthusiastic to play for Babbel than it was for Stanislawski. The truth of the matter is that Babbel was never the perfect fit to inspire greatness from a team that really is just a mid-table quality squad, especially after losing Ibisevic during the winter transfer window. All one has to do is look at Babbel’s previous stints as manager to see that he is a rather mediocre manager.

Though he was ousted from Berlin more due to his contract (and personality) dispute with Michael Preetz than for sporting reasons, the team had not been performing well for him in the end either. After a victory against Cologne way back on match day 8, the only victories for Babbel teams came twice against Wolfsburg (once with Berlin and once with Hoffenheim). Going back to his time as Stuttgart manager he had amazing initial success (well…for half a season at least) in getting Stuttgart into a Champions League spot, but when the luster wore off, he was sacked just one year after being hired. At the time of his sacking, Stuttgart were on a relegation spot after 15 matches.

New Hoffenheim coach Markus Babbel

The club leadership at Hoffenheim clearly speculated on Babbel producing the same effect for their squad as he had done when he took over a mid-table Stuttgart team almost midway through the season. The two situations though are vastly different. Not too long before taking over, Babbel was still an active player for Stuttgart and was an assistant there prior to being awarded the manager post. He knew the team intimately and was the right man to get the most out of the squad, some of which were still his old teammates. At Hoffenheim, however, he has no such insights or ties, which is clearly reflected in the team’s play.

Watching the last two matches, Hoffenheim have lacked much creativity and have simply been outplayed by their opponents. Against Bayern they seemed like a rabbit frozen in the headlights and subsequently got overrun by an inspired (and angry) Bayern side. In the match versus Stuttgart they only woke up after the break, when they already trailed by two goals. The catalyst for a more threatening attack was Sejad Salihovic, who Babbel brought in after the 48th minute, following an internal two match ban for disciplinary reasons. After all was said and done though, Hoffenheim deservedly lost the match, mainly based upon the poor initial tactical selections made by Markus Babbel. Though the team has creative players (the undisciplined Salihovic for one) and threatening goal scorers (Ryan Babel when he is in the mood), it is a matter of turning their talent into game changing performances, which is their current problem.

I think we can all agree that Europe is well out of Hoffenheim’s grasp this season, but if they want to secure a mid-table finish and not get dragged into the relegation battle, Markus Babbel must find the button he needs to push in order to get better performances out of his squad and harness the talent that they do possess. The next two matches against Mönchengladbach and Schalke will be very difficult and if Hoffenheim does not improve their performances through these two games it could end up being a rather tense end to the season and Markus Babbel’s time as Hoffenheim manager.

The Bundesliga Show Episode 56 – Seventh Heaven For Bayern & More Chaos in Cologne

Thie week on the Bundesliga Show, Jon Hartley and Terry Duffelen are joined by another Bundesliga Lounger Archie Rhind-Tutt, to discuss the action from matchday 25.

Also in the show a chat about the ever changing situation at FC Cologne. The club is without a President and now without a Sporting  Director, after the departure of Volke Finke.

All that and round of the second division and a look froward to the matches this weekend in the Bundesliga.

The Bundesliga Show Episode 55 – Dominant Dortmund & the Relegation Fight

This week on The Bundesliga Show, Jon Hartley and Terry Duffelen are joined by Markus Herwig from 90elf football radio station to talk about the relegation battle in the Bundesliga.

Also in the show, all the talking points from last weekends action and a round-up from the 2.Bundesliga. All that and a look forward to the matchday 25.

 

Resisting the Frankfurt Doctrine

Come on in the Apfelwein is lovely

When Andrew van Leeuwen moved to Germany he thought he’d be free to follow his beloved Mainz. However, as he tells the Bundesliga Lounge, some pesky Eintracht Frankfurt fans have other plans for him.

I have a love/hate relationship with Eintracht Frankfurt.

There’s no real reason for me to dislike Eintracht. My wife is from Hessen, and I absolutely love Apfelwein, the native alcoholic beverage of Frankfurt.

I don’t even mind the way Eintracht Frankfurt play football. They have some exciting play makers, which, coupled with their lacklustre defence, makes for entertaining football. And, if nothing else, you can have a good laugh watching Alex Meier’s six-five frame galloping around a football pitch, or calling Oka Nikolov the Ryan Giggs of goalkeeping (he debuted for Frankfurt’s youth team in 1991!), or just wondering what Benjamin Köhler was thinking last time he got his hair cut.

But, despite all those reasons to love Eintracht Frankfurt, part of me still hates them. Part of me likes seeing them lose. And the only reason I want them back in the 1.Bundesliga is so that I can watch Mo Zidan connect with anything that flies through those massive holes in Frankfurt’s defence when they inevitably play Mainz 05 next season. These facts are harsh, but true.

The reason I have this strange disdain for Eintracht is because of my friends. Now, I don’t know what it’s like in the rest of the world, but in Australia, losing to your friends is worse than losing to your enemies. Very few will admit this, but deep down we all know that seeing a friend’s favourite club do well when your favourite club is doing poorly sucks. Sharing that happiness in any beyond a polite ‘well done’ and a forced smile is basically impossible. Again, harsh, but true.

I don’t live in Australia anymore. I now live in Germany, and, in case you hadn’t already guessed, 90 percent of my friends here are Eintracht Frankfurt supporters. That’s fine; they’re all good blokes who have welcomed me into their group. They love a Weizen and a bembel or two of Apfelwein, and that’s just fine with me.

But if I hear someone say ‘Eintracht Frankfurt is just a much better club than Mainz’ one more time, in any language, I’m going to scream.

The point that they’re trying to make isn’t, necessarily, too wide of the mark. In terms of ‘fanatic’ support, Mainz is a long way behind some of the other clubs, and according to my somewhat biased friends, the team’s stint in the 2.Bundesliga reaped some pretty embarrassing crowd figures (I can’t confirm or deny that, as it was long before my fascination with the league began).

And no, Mainz fans don’t command a huge police presence when they travel away. They aren’t famous for their pyrotechnics, and they probably never will be.

But the Mainz support isn’t all that bad, either. I’ve only been to the Coface Arena once, and there was 30,000 people there against Hannover, the away crowd only making a very modest contribution to the overall crowd number. Sure, Mainz have stolen You’ll Never Walk Alone from Liverpool – but so have heaps and heaps of professional clubs.

More than just apple juice

At the end of the day, flares and original songs aren’t the barometer of passion. The roar of the crowd when a goal is scored, or during a particularly beautiful passage of play, is what it’s all about. The actual size of that crowd, or the size of their flags and banners, is beside the point. It’s how the fans feel when their team is performing.

The funny thing is that I’ve been to more Eintracht games than Mainz games during my short stint as a German. I’ve seen a lot, from the 6-1 demolition of FSV Frankfurt to the 4-2 loss in Paderborn (or Paderbornska, as the Frankfurt fans were calling it after a stint out of European competition). And it’s been great. There are flares and chanting and jumping and bedlam when the ball finds the back of the net. In Paderborn, we watched as the local police outnumbered the fans as they walked from the city centre to the modest ground. It’s been fascinating to experience, some great football as a neutral fan, and I look forward to seeing plenty more Eintracht games.

But none of those things make me want to be an Eintracht supporter. I’ll stick with my little club – despite some external pressures to switch sides from my mates.

Because that’s what football is all about.

Bundesliga Saturday Coupon – Matchday 24

Fancy having a punt on the Bundesliga this Saturday? Terry would like you to consider the following before throwing away your money.

Bayer Leverkusen v Bayern Münich
Bayern’s victory over Schalke suggests a return to form after some poor performances. However, Schalke have not played well against the top teams this season so this fixture will be a better indicator as to Bayern’s situation. Robin Dutt’s Leverkusen go into this fixture in good spirits after two wins and a sense that things are beginning to settle down. If they relax and allow themselves to play their best game, a home win is a definite possibility.

No red faces for Bayern - Jupp Heynckes can't afford to lose against his old club

Hamburg v Stuttgart
Expect lots of diagonal balls to the corners as HSV try to win set pieces and test Stuttgart’s rickety defense. The Hamburg club are capable of some comedy defending, themselves which is why both they and their opponents aren’t higher up the table. While I wouldn’t be confident in predicting a result, a goal in the first fifteen minutes might prove an interesting wager.

Hannover 96 v Augsburg
If FCA can get a result at Hannover then they’re definitely good enough to stay in this division. The home side’s long unbeaten run was interrupted by Borussia Dortmund, last week, so they will be keen to make amends. A note of caution to those thinking of backing the home team, Mirko Slomka’s team are still embroiled in a Europa League campaign to which they are unfamiliar. This may make them heavy legged, especially after being worked over by Dortmund, last week.

Freiburg v Schalke 04
The odds on an away win should be very narrow. Freiburg are improving but Schalke have made a virtue of beating the Bundesliga’s poorer teams this season. After last week’s defeat at Bayern, Huub Stevens will be looking for a response. Having said that Freiburg have had some encouraging performances, particularly that 0-0 draw with Bayern so a positive result for SCF is not out of the question.

Can 'The Don' of Gelsenkirchen get a result against Freiburg?

Kaiserslautern v Wolfsburg
Wolfsburg are dreadful on the road, ‘Lautern are just dreadful. Hopefully this won’t be one of those games where both teams lack the confidence to be adventurous and it descends into a tedious midfield scrap. I’d maintain low expectations of entertainment. That way you’ll be surprised if it’s a half decent game.

Hertha BSC v Werder Bremen
No excuses for King Otto now. If new Hertha coach, Otto Rehhagel does not produce a positive performance, at the very least, against Werder then the term “crisis club” will take on a new meaning. The Bremen club can be accommodating but if you go by the form book the sensible bet would be on the green of Werder.

Borussia Dortmund v Mainz 05
Thomas Tuchel takes his Mainz team to meet their former coach, Jürgen Klopp whose mighty Borussia Dortmund team sit atop the Bundesliga. Home win then? Well maybe but consider Mainz’ steady improvement and improving position in the table. Not to mention the return of Mohammed Zidan who left Dortmund for Mainz in January and hasn’t stopped scoring since.