Buoyed by a 3-1 home win in the first leg of the promotion/relegation play-off last Thursday, Hoffenheim make the trip to Kaiserslautern bidding to complete what at one point seemed an impossible survival act.
Inside the bottom two between Bundesliga Matchdays 23 and 33, 1899 hopped out of the automatic relegation berth in dramatic circumstances on the final day, and in the final seconds of the regular season. Making use of that momentum in the first leg against the Red Devils, Markus Gisdol’s troops are now a draw, or even a narrow defeat, away from retaining their Bundesliga status.
“We’ve got to keep our cool and not overdo our preparations,” warned Gisdol, who is not letting the inevitable distractions from the terraces of the imposing Fritz-Walter-Stadion worry him, or his team. “They [the fans] can’t do any more than scream at us,” he added. “We're focusing on our own game.”
Team has a say
They did that to destructive effect on Thursday, although Gisdol is not comforted by the 3-1 lead. “We still have plenty of room for improvement,” he said. “They looked pretty good against us.”
The coach will resort to democratic methods to ensure his side come out on top once again. “I’m going to ask the players for their thoughts on the game,” he said. “I’m a coach who listens to his team a lot. You’ve got to let them use their know-how in these games. Experienced players like Andreas Beck and Sejad Salihovic have led the way in the dressing room by supporting our ideas. Regardless of how the season ends, we’re heading in the right direction and we want to continue that.”
On the up
Kaiserslautern are keen to get back on track after last Thursday’s unscheduled stutter. “We’ve got to avoid individual mistakes like the ones which led to the goals we conceded in the first leg,” said Red Devils' boss Franco Foda.
The side will be counting on the legendary Betzenberg buzz created by the tirelessly vocal home support to work in Kaiserslautern’s favour. “They’re going to urge us on,” said CEO Stefan Kuntz. “It’s far more exciting to feel all the media hype when you’re in the Bundesliga,” he said.
Foda can name his strongest side, including Mohamadou Idrissou and Ariel Borysiuk, who both avoided yellow cards in the first leg which would have led to suspension in the second. Forward Albert Bunjaku is likely to be an option after injury.
Koen Casteels retains his place in the Hoffenheim goal while towering centre-back Jannik Vestergaard is also fit and will be crucial to keeping Idrissou quiet.
Kaiserslautern: Sippel - Dick, Torrejon, Heintz, Löwe - Borysiuk, Orban - Weiser, Baumjohann - Idrissou, Bunjaku
Hoffenheim: Casteels - Beck, Abraham, Vestergaard, Thesker - Rudy, Polanski - Volland, Salihovic, Johnson - Roberto Firmino