VfB Stuttgart - FC Schalke 04
Schalke will be hoping homesickness doesn't rear its ugly head again, after a run of three successive Bundesliga defeats on the road have seen Huub Stevens' young bucks fall 13 points adrift of league leaders FC Bayern Munich.
"We go there in good spirits. It wouldn't help to travel with negative vibes," said Stevens, who was afforded the opportunity to rest a number of key players as Schalke ended their UEFA Champions League group campaign on a high and top of their group after victory in Montpellier on Tuesday night.
"Shouldn't be underestimated"
"Stuttgart [were] at home against Molde and are again against us," explained Stevens in reference to the Swabians' perceived home advantage. "We on the other hand played at Montpellier [...]. The associated exertions shouldn't be underestimated," he added, alluding to the possibility of a European hangover in both camps.
Indeed, such exertions could take their toll come Saturday afternoon, with Stuttgart head coach Bruno Labbadia likely to call on the same group of players that were in action under 48 hours earlier. "We have progressed [in Europe] and need to take that positive element into the very short recuperation period ahead of the game against Schalke,” said Stuttgart's Shinji Okazaki.
1. FC Nuremberg - Fortuna Düsseldorf
Thirteenth-placed Nuremberg could leapfrog Düsseldorf with victory at the easyCredit Stadium. Der Club trail Norbert Meier's improving outfit by just two points ahead of kick-off, after tasting defeat just once in their last five league outings whilst holding Bayern to an admirable 1-1 draw.
"[Fortuna] have picked up some good results and have shown that they're good enough for the top flight," said Nuremberg head coach Dieter Hecking. "Nevertheless we want to win," he added. The overall goal is clear, then, but the Franconians' preparations have been hit by a knock to midfielder Hiroshi Kiyotake, whose involvement remains in doubt.
"Full of confidence"
Facing a team potentially shorn of their star man would certainly prove another stroke of good fortune for Düsseldorf, who've picked up back-to-back home wins in recent weeks as well as a point away at champions Borussia Dortmund. "You can see that the guys are full of self belief," beamed Düsseldorf's head coach.
"There are six points up for grabs and we want to go further in the German Cup," continued Meier who had plenty of kind words for Saturday's hosts in his pre-match conference. "Nuremberg have done really well in the last few seasons. We've observed them from afar and can only praise their efforts," he said.
SC Freiburg - SpVgg Greuther Fürth
Despite being held to a 1-1 draw last time out to FC Augsburg and losing at home to Bayern three days earlier, Freiburg go into Saturday's home encounter with bottom club Fürth trailing sixth-placed 1. FSV Mainz 05 by just three points.
It's the sort of position Fürth can only dream of on current form but, at the same time, look on as a source of inspiration. "Freiburg are a team we can model ourselves on. We have a similar philosophy with young players and a family environment," explained Fürth head coach Mike Büskens.
"We need these points"
"We want these points. We need these points," he continued after witnessing his side win just once all season. Indeed, with only two games left to play this calendar year, the Clover Leaves face the ignominy of being bottom at Christmas and the uphill slog involved in trying to turn things around once the campaign resumes.
"It's not like we've done everything wrong. We're just not being rewarded with the points", lamented Büskens, who's not the only one to have noticed Fürth's efforts. "Fürth have shown they have the quality on the pitch. We'll have to be on our guard to take the three points in our final home game [before the winter break]," warned midfielder Max Kruse.