Munich - The lower regions of the Bundesliga come into focus on Saturday with Hoffenheim and Hamburg two sides particularly keen to give their seasons a boost.
1899 Hoffenheim - Hamburger SV
bundesliga.com looks ahead to an important day of action this Saturday (kick-off 15:30 CET) which also sees SC Freiburg and SV Werder Bremen aiming to pick important points away from home.
Two sides licking their respective wounds after false starts to the New Year meet at the WIRSOL Rhein-Neckar-Arena on Saturday.1899 Hoffenheim are reeling after a 4-0 defeat at 1. FC Nürnberg while visitors Hamburger SV are aiming to bounce straight back from a 3-0 loss at home to FC Schalke 04 last weekend.
Together, they share the desire to get three points to alleviate fears of relegation. "If we all keep hiding, then we're never going to win," said Hamburg captain Rafael van der Vaart. "We've got to go out there and show what we've got. Talking gets us nowhere."
'Tough guys' needed
Sejad Salihovic is in line for a return for Hoffenheim, although coach Markus Gisdol admits it might not quite be the right kind of game for such a technically-gifted player. Rather, he expects a fight. "We need tough guys for this game," he said. "We want to win our first home game of 2014, it doesn't matter how."
Gisdol has therefore ruled out the need for "magical football" and affirmed how important it is going to be for his side to "do the basics right." If they succeed, it would be Hoffenheim's first win since December 7 and only their second in nine Bundesliga matches.
FC Augsburg - SV Werder Bremen
SV Werder Bremen could parade new signing Ludovic Obraniak in their trip to FC Augsburg with the French-born Polish midfielder arriving in his new surroundings from Bordeaux on Friday. "Ludovic has a strong left foot and I think he feels at home as an attacking midfielder," said Bremen coach Robin Dutt.
"He can play out wide too and he will give further strength to our attack." The 29-year-old follows in the footsteps of another former Bordeaux player who wowed Bremen and Bundesliga fans, Johan Micoud. "Micoud had only positive things to say, which is what made my decision so easy," said Obraniak, who had consulted the former Bremen number 10 prior to his move.
"First of all, I want to work well in Bremen and show what I can do, and then if I somehow become a boss of the midfield like Micoud, then that would obviously be a great honour," added Obraniak, who represents Poland and will wear the number seven shirt.
His arrival complicates matters for Augsburg, giving them an unknown prospect to deal with. That is not coach Markus Weinzierl's only problem, however. He has to replace Marwin Hitz in goal with Alexander Manninger while Raul Bobadilla and Dong-Won Ji are both doubts. "We hope they will both be available, but we'll just have to wait and see," said the Augsburg coach.
1. FSV Mainz 05 - SC Freiburg
Shinji Okazaki is fuelling Mainz's hopes of picking up their next win of 2014 when they host SC Freiburg. The Japanese striker scored his ninth goal of the season in last weekend's 2-1 win over VfB Stuttgart, and coach Thomas Tuchel says he is more than worth his weight in gold. "It gives us a very good feeling that Shinji is scoring so regularly," he said. "It's an enormous help and gives us a lot of confidence."
Okazaki may not be partnered by German international Nicolai Müller at the Coface Arena, however. "He wasn't able to play today," Tuchel said on Thursday. "We've still got time, but there is a risk he won't be available." Müller has scored eight times this season, just one less than Okazaki, who has netted eight in his last nine matches.
Zulechner's dream come true
Such a scoring rate would be welcomed by Freiburg, whose top scorer Admir Mehmedi has found the back of the net six times this season. Their strength, however, is the collective, as they showed in a 3-2 win over Bayer 04 Leverkusen last weekend which gives them hope for a more successful 2014.
New arrival Philipp Zulechner shares that optimism as he gets set for a possible debut this weekend. "It's the aim of every footballer in Austria to play abroad, particularly in the Bundesliga," said the 23-year-old arrival from SV Grödig. He scored 15 goals in 20 games for his former club in the first half of the season, so maybe Freiburg have found a top marksman after all.