VfB Stuttgart - Hannover 96
VfB Stuttgart, on the back of two straight losses, welcome a Hannover 96 side fresh from their first win in seven. The Swabians' coach Thomas Schneider is expecting an improvement from his players in their last home outing of the calendar year. "It's an important game for us," said the 41-year-old. "We've got to show through our whole approach that we want to win the match."
Schneider is preparing for the visit of a “good, battling Hannover side” with a fairly fresh squad - but didn’t rule out ringing the changes in an attempt to turn VfB's worrying recent form slump around. “There could be a few - we’ll have to wait and see,” he explained. Borussia Dortmund loanee Moritz Leitner could miss out, with the return of William Kvist in central midfield.
Abdellaoue confronts old friends
Hannover coach Mirko Slomka has been able to enjoy a more relaxed week after his side beat Eintracht Frankfurt 2-0 on Matchday 14 and reasserted their excellent early home form. Slomka added after last week’s win that “Nobody would have thought we’d climb into the top half of the table". Three places, but only one point, separate his and Schneider’s troops and this game represents a further opportunity to consolidate ahead of the winter break.
The 96ers’ prospects of coming away with the three points have been boosted by Mame Diouf’s goalscoring return last weekend, while Christian Schulz and Leon Andreasen are also available. They may all well be up against former team-mate Mohammed Abdellaoue, who scored in Hannover’s 4-2 win in the Mercedes-Benz-Arena last season and, according to Schneider, “is back at that level”.
Hamburger SV - FC Augsburg
Hamburg go into Saturday's game against Augsburg one point behind their guests in the standings and trailing them for the first time this season. The Red Shorts aim to remedy that by racking up their third home win on the trot (DFB Cup included), but they will have to do so without first-team stalwarts Heiko Westermann and Rafael van der Vaart.
Both sides missing key personnel
Head coach Bert van Marwijk may well opt to give Michael Mancienne the nod again in place of Westermann – who is sidelined with a knee problem – after the England U-21 impressed in the aforementioned 2-1 cup victory over Bundesliga 2 leaders 1. FC Köln. Van Marwijk's Augsburg counterpart Markus Weinzierl is likewise facing the prospect of having to replace two key players. Defender Ragnar Klavan is struggling with a shoulder injury, while midfielder Jan Moravek is definitely out for the rest of the year after suffering a thigh strain against Köln.
For Augsburg, the DFB Cup dream ended at the last-16 stage as they were duly dispatched by the holders, not to mention German and European champions. The Bavarian Swabians did however give their mighty regional neighbours quite a testing time of it before going down 2-0 and Weinzierl doubtless has no need to remind his players that the last time they travelled to Hamburg, they departed with a 1-0 win in the bag. The coach is not going so far as to predict a repeat of that, but he has made clear that, “Our aim is to still be above Hamburg in the table once the game's over.”
Eintracht Frankfurt - 1899 Hoffenheim
Having seen off third-flight Sandhausen to progress into the last eight of the DFB Cup in midweek, Frankfurt are fervently hoping for a repeat showing against Hoffenheim – not least for the sake of their long-suffering fans, still waiting for a home win in the Bundesliga this season at the seventh attempt. As far as that goes, Armin Veh is “hoping we can put the previous games to one side and go into this one with confidence. It's another fresh opportunity for us. And as far as opponents Hoffenheim go, the Eagles head coach noted that, “If you just look at their , you don't go to Schalke and win 3-1 at the drop of a hat. They're incredibly strong up front, it's no coincidence they're scoring so many goals.”
Bundesliga debut for Grahl
32 in their first 14 league games, to be precise. The good news for Frankfurt however is that Hoffenheim have been conceding even more – a division-high 34 thus far. That notwithstanding, midfielder Kai Herdling was at pains to stress after the triumph in Gelsenkirchen that, “It was important for us to see that we can also function well as a defensive unit. Even after they pulled one back, it didn't knock us out our stride.”
For the trip to a Frankfurt side who are “difficult to predict,” coach Markus Gisdol is keeping faith with Jens Grahl, who replaced Koen Casteels between the sticks for the cup outing. “We want to carry over the positive energy from the Schalke game. Jens did a good job and he was very focused,” Gisdol explained.