Munich - With the winter break drawing ever closer, another Saturday instalment of Bundesliga action once again puts pivotal points on the line. Bayer 04 Leverkusen are aiming to keep pace at the top against 1. FC Nürnberg, Jos Luhukay faces his former club FC Augsburg for the first time as Hertha Berlin head coach, while SV Werder Bremen and 1899 Hoffenheim are both keen to further distance themselves from the relegation places.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen - 1. FC Nürnberg
bundesliga.com rounds up the action around Germany on Saturday afternoon.
Following on from their biggest ever defeat on home soil in Europe, courtesy of a 5-0 loss to Manchester United FC, Leverkusen are hoping to preserve their unbeaten league record at the BayArena when they host a Nürnberg side still without a win this term. “We’ve got to demonstrate that we can shake off the result and get ourselves back on track in the Bundesliga,” commented captain Simon Rolfes. “We’ve got to show a response in our own game and push on.”
Die Werkself are still without Sidney Sam (torn muscle), while Sebastian Boenisch (toe) and Roberto Hilbert (cruciate ligament) have reduced the backline options for head coach Sami Hyypiä, who knows the game against Nürnberg is far from a foregone conclusion. “The team was hit hard mentally following the game against Manchester, but we have to stay positive,” explained the Finn. “The sign of a good team is being able to bounce back from a game like that and prove they didn’t just become a bad team overnight.”
Faith in the new philosophy
Not that Nürnberg midfielder Markus Feulner believes the hosts' midweek setback will have much bearing on Saturday’s encounter. “Leverkusen are an effective side. They have few chances, but they are very composed,” explained Feulner, who went on to respond to the recent criticism levelled at the club’s new attack-minded philosophy that is yet to bear fruit: “I think it’s clear for everyone to see that we are enjoying this system.”
A 1-1 draw at home to VfL Wolfsburg last week does offer some cause for encouragement, but it couldn’t prevent der Club becoming only the fourth Bundesliga outfit in the history of Germany’s top flight to go 13 games without a win at the start of a season. However, head coach Gertjan Verbeek isn’t contemplating making wholesale changes. “We have a philosophy and we can pick up points in this game too,” stated the Dutchman, whose only absentee remains Timo Gebhart.
Hertha Berlin - FC Augsburg
In a battle between two teams currently exceeding expectations this season, Hertha supremo Jos Luhukay is determined for his side to return to winning ways on home soil, following back-to-back defeats against FC Schalke 04 and Bayer 04 Leverkusen. “We can’t underestimate Augsburg,” said the Dutchman of his former club, whom he faces for the first time on Saturday since leaving in 2012. “However, we want to be victorious at home again.”
Alexander Baumjohann will definitely miss out, while there are still “question marks” regarding the fitness of Fabian Lustenberger (hamstring) and Maik Frantz (virus) according to Luhukay, who has given his charges a clear objective this weekend. “[Being favourites] changes nothing for us as we’re concentrating on playing our game and making sure our strategy can result in three points,” explained the 50-year-old. “We want to take the initiative and we want to dominate. We don’t just want to create chances, but also to work on our efficiency in front of goal.”
Onwards and upwards
Luhukay’s successor Markus Weinzierl also has a target in mind this weekend with his side in possession of the league’s second-worst away record. “In Berlin we want to pick up points again away from home, preferably with a win. In the past few matches on the road we’ve put in some promising performances without reaping the rewards,” said Augsburg’s head coach, who will have to make do without the services of joint-top scorer Andre Hahn after the midfielder picked up his fifth booking of the season last weekend.
The 2-0 win against Hoffenheim saw Augsburg set a new club record for most points collected in the first half of a Bundesliga season - and that with four games to spare. However, talk of survival is never far away. “Hertha are two points ahead of us and we want to leapfrog them on the weekend with a win,” said Weinzierl. “We’ve got to show the same level of performance on the road as we do at home to achieve that. Furthermore, we can put more distance between us and the drop zone. That has to be our goal.”
1899 Hoffenheim - Werder Bremen
With just one win from their last seven top-flight fixtures, Werder Bremen are currently struggling to claw themselves away from the bottom third of the table. Their last defeat, a 3-2 loss to 1. FSV Mainz 05, could have been a lot worse were it not for two late goals from Eljero Elia and Franco di Santo, but despite an abject performance from Sebastian Mielitz, head coach Robin Dutt was adamant his role has not come into question, stating: “Sebastian Mielitz is our No1.”
On a more positive note, however, Bremen could welcome back Nils Petersen. The three-goal striker has returned to training following a partial tear of his cruciate ligament and is set to feature on Saturday. “Nils is already training really well, it’s as if he’d never been away. Therefore I’m confident that he’ll be fit enough to be in the squad,” confirmed Dutt, who could also welcome back long-term absentee Philipp Bargfrede.
Gisdol calls for unity
No points, three goals scored and seven conceded: November really hasn’t been kind to Hoffenheim. Nevertheless, coach Markus Gisdol appears unconcerned by the nosedive in form: “This is a new game. How previous matches ended will have no bearing on Saturday’s outcome.” Up against a home team who “are difficult to predict”, according to Gisdol, the Sinsheim side are hoping to move on from last week's 2-0 loss to Augsburg.
The 44-year-old has identified what went wrong last weekend and is aiming to rectify the situation this time around. “If we want to be a team, then we must smooth out our mistakes together,” Gisdol said. “Maybe we were missing that against Augsburg, but in all the previous games this season, that team focus has been fantastic. We're doing well concentrating on ourselves and our own performance.” Doubts remain regarding the fitness of Sejad Salihovic and Fabian Johnson, while Stefan Thesker will definitely miss out after rupturing a ligament in his right ankle.
Also kicking off at 15:30 CET
Check out what's at stake elsewhere on Saturday, with our previews for table-toppers FC Bayern München, who play host to cellar-dwellers Eintracht Braunschweig while Jürgen Klopp pays former club 1. FSV Mainz 05 a visit with Borussia Dortmund.