Munich - Following the distraction of European football in midweek, the Bundesliga returns with a bang as several sides in the thick of the relegation battle step into the spotlight on Matchday 22's Saturday afternoon action (kick-offs 15:30 CET).
1. FC Nürnberg - Eintracht Braunschweig
Action is guaranteed in Bavaria where a resurgent 1. FC Nürnberg host a bottom-of-the-league Eintracht Braunschweig side fresh from a morale-boosting win of their own. Elsewhere, SC Freiburg host FC Augsburg at the MAGE Solar Stadion and freefalling VfB Stuttgart take on high-flying Hertha Berlin. bundesliga.com previews the afternoon encounters...
Nürnberg have been in phenomenal form since the turn of the year, collecting nine points in four games and suffering just one loss against league leaders FC Bayern München. Most recently, they celebrated a 1-0 away victory over FC Augsburg courtesy of a second-half winner from in-form Josip Drmic, who despite having scored more goals than any other Bundesliga player since the season's restart, believes "winning is more important than me scoring goals".
The Bavarian side welcomed Mike Frantz and Makoto Hasebe back to team training earlier in the week, but the Japanese international will not be fit enough to feature on Saturday, with coach Gertjan Verbeek admitting this weekend poses a different challenge for his side. "The pressure is on us this time," explained the Dutchman. "We'll see how the team copes with that. A win is not a must in my mind, but it would of course be welcome."
‘We have a great chance’
Eintracht Braunschweig come into the encounter on the back off an exhilarating 4-2 victory over Hamburger SV, a much-needed three points that have given the Lions renewed hope of battling their way out of the relegation zone. “The gap to Nürnberg is so small that we have a great chance of surviving,” said head coach Thorsten Lieberknecht.
Five points adrift of their hosts at present, Braunschweig could reduce that deficit to just two with victory at the Grundig Stadion. These two sides played out a hard-fought 1-1 draw when they met earlier this season and defender Marcel Correia would happily take another point against der Club this time around, considering the form they're in: “The team has proved themselves, we have been warned," the Portuguese defender said.
SC Freiburg - FC Augsburg
Freiburg are looking to bounce back from last weekend's 4-0 loss to Bayern, but that's not to say there were no positives to take from the encounter. "We were well organised for 65 to 70 minutes of the match," claimed head coach Christian Streich, who's side have amassed four points in four games, including a win over Bayer 04 Leverkusen, since the season's restart.
Defender Christian Günter believes Augsburg “have developed very well” this year, but knows that if his side are to win this match, they will need “control the game”. Streich admitted this weekend's visitors are “incredibly aggressive and always take it to the limit”, but was confident of his side's chances of success, providing they "produce the same level of passion as our recent home games".
Need to bounce back
Augsburg's eight-game unbeaten run may have come to an end after their loss to Nürnberg last week, but having collected seven points from a possible 12 in 2014, they are still a dark horse in the European battle. Head coach Markus Weinzierl is also confident that his side won't be thrown off track by the defeat. "We want to go on a new run as quickly as possible," explained the 39-year-old. "We're remaining realistic and keeping our feet on the ground. We know we've had to work extremely hard for our 31 points."
Midfielder Andre Hahn echoed his head coach's sentiments. "We've been working hard and we want to win in Freiburg,“ said the club's top scorer with eight goals. His finishing prowess will be needed considering Augsburg have never found the back of the net in a Bundesliga encounter at the MAGE Solar Arena. That will have to change if they want to stay hot on the heels of sixth-placed Borussia Mönchengladbach.
VfB Stuttgart - Hertha Berlin
Stuttgart have had a terrible start to the second half of the season, recording four losses - excluding the re-arranged encounter with FC Bayern München - shipping 12 goals and finding the back of the net only four times themselves. The Baden-Württemberg outfit suffered a 4-1 loss last time out against 1899 Hoffenheim and head coach Thomas Schneider knows his side "need to show a reaction" to their current loss of form.
Die Schwaben ground out a narrow 1-0 win in the reverse fixture back in September and are desperate to at the very least match that result on Saturday. Schneider remains hopeful of doing so and "completely believes in the team", stating that "every game is a new opportunity. We want to pick up three points against Hertha, then we can take the next step in our season," concluded the 41-year-old.
Berlin's European connection
Their capital city opponents currently sit just two spots and three points adrift of the European qualification spots, but thoughts of qualifying for European competition for the first time since the 2008/09 campaign have been put on the backburner in recent weeks. The newly-promoted side have stumbled out of the blocks in the New Year, picking up just one win from four, their last result being a 2-1 loss at home to VfL Wolfsburg.
Though they boast a 12-point gap over their hosts this weekend, Berlin's head coach Jos Luhukay knows "it will be a difficult away game. It will come down to the details," explained the Dutchman. "The smallest things determine whether you win or lose in the Bundesliga. You've got to push yourself to the limit week in, week out, which is what we've done. We've been competitive in every game this season and that won't change on Saturday."