Munich - European qualification is the theme on Saturday as 1. FSV Mainz 05 host Bayer 04 Leverkusen hoping to maintain their push for a top six finish, while VfL Wolfsburg travel to SC Freiburg, who could end the weekend in fourth place if results go their way.
At the other end of the table, the odds of survival are decreasing with every passing Matchday, so all eyes will be on the relegation scrap as the Bundesliga’s bottom two, 1899 Hoffenheim and Greuther Fürth, face off in what is surely a must-win match for both sides.
After four straight draws, Mainz have fallen off the pace in the race for Europe somewhat. However, a return to home comforts, where they’ve collected 21 of their 34 points this season, could serve them well against Leverkusen, whose sole focus is on staying hot on the heels of Borussia Dortmund.
Head coach Thomas Tuchel didn’t beat around the bush when it came to analysing Mainz’s recent performances. “It’s not that we’re lacking the basics, but rather that we’re investing a lot, without being rewarded for our efforts,” said the 39-year-old, who could welcome Colombian Elkin Soto back into the fold.
Tuchel has called for his charges to be “more effective and clinical than in recent matches” against a Leverkusen side with a familiar face amongst their ranks. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t an important game for me,” explained star forward Andre Schürrle, who spent five years at the club. “I had a great time at Mainz and I’ve still got a lot of friends there.”
Bayer boss Sami Hyypiä will be without first-choice centre-back pairing Philipp Wollscheid (suspended) and Ömer Toprak (knee), but was expecting a tough battle irrespective of his personnel problems. “It’s difficult for every opponent at Mainz as they play at a high tempo and with great intensity,” stated the Finn.
Separated by more places in the table (ten) than they are points (nine), a win this weekend would have markedly different impacts on Freiburg and Wolfsburg's respective campaigns.
Hosts Freiburg, who have never lost on home soil against the Wolves, could set a club record on Saturday by securing their ninth clean sheet of the current campaign. However, true to form, head coach Christian Streich is taking nothing for granted: “[Wolfsburg] are certainly not in the position they want to be, but have stabilised of late. It will be an exciting challenge for us.”
Meanwhile, Wolfsburg’s first priority is bouncing back from arguably their worst outing of the season so far. “The whole team knows that we didn’t put in a good performance against Schalke and that we can’t allow ourselves to play that way against Freiburg,” said midfielder Christian Träsch.
With Makoto Hasebe (flu), Naldo (torn muscle) and Alexander Madlung (suspended) unavailable for selection, head coach Dieter Hecking received a boost with Diego and Simon Kjaer both declared fit for the trip to the Black Forest. “Following a setback, the best possible reaction is to immediately bounce back,” said the 48-year-old, who was keen for his charges to “pick up from where we were before the game against Schalke”.
Following a promising performance against league leaders FC Bayern Munich last weekend, Hoffenheim are determined to secure a result to match against cellar-dwellars Greuther Fürth, who are experiencing a mini-revival but remain without a win on home soil this season.
The Clover Leaves have the chance to move off the foot of the table for the first time since Matchday 15 in an encounter which interim head coach Ludwig Preis is referring to as “the most important of the year so far." The 41-year-old insisted his team were "fired up and focused” and promised they will put in an "attacking" performance.
Winter signing Nikola Djurdjic is the dangerman from a Hoffenheim perspective, but head coach Marco Kurz is focusing on the positives from 1899’s most recent encounter: “It’s all about taking the performance from the Bayern game and improving upon it. It cannot be the case that we cause more problems for Bayern than we do Fürth.”
Polish international Eugen Polanski and Andreas Beck are expected to return from suspension, but there are question marks surrounding the fitness of Fabian Johnson (hip) and David Abraham (groin). However, Kurz remains confident ahead of Saturday’s clash: “My players want to prove they can win in Fürth.”