Munich - There may be just three rounds of games remaining in the 2013/14 Bundesliga campaign, but there’s plenty still to play for and on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 13:30 GMT/15:30 CET) the battle to beat the drop takes centre stage once again.
1. FSV Mainz 05 - 1. FC Nürnberg
Cellar-dwellers Eintracht Braunschweig and 1. FC Nürnberg are both on the road and desperate to claw their way above Hamburger SV and into the relegation play-off spot, while Eintracht Frankfurt are hoping to guarantee themselves top-flight football when they travel south to take on 1899 Hoffenheim.
1. FSV Mainz 05 could guarantee themselves a place in European competition with victory on Matchday 32, but head coach Thomas Tuchel, as he has done so often this season, refused to get ahead of himself at his pre-match press conference. “If we win our home game against Nürnberg on Saturday then we can be at peace while we watch the games on Sunday,” said Tuchel, whose side have picked up since the turn of the year.
However, the 40-year-old knows Mainz’s work isn’t done yet, with Joo-Ho Park (foot) and Niko Bungert (suspended) set to join long-term absentees Nicolai Müller, Dani Schahin and Julian Baumgartlinger in the stands. “There are still two home games remaining and a tricky away game awaiting us,” explained Tuchel. “It’s absolutely fantastic to train these lads with such desire and enthusiasm. We believe that you play how you train and we're looking forward to showing that three more times!”
New Nürnberg head coach Roger Prinzen, who took over on an interim basis following the dismissal of Gertjan Verbeek, faces a baptism of fire with his side currently in the midst of a four-game losing streak and sitting in the automatic relegation places, desperately trying to free themselves from the clutches of the drop zone. “My first impressions are good and the players are raring to go," said Prinzen. "I can sense that the team are fully aware of the situation and have the courage to face up to it."
The 45-year-old isn’t a complete stranger to standing on the sidelines after he picked up a point in his only other stint as der Club head coach, a 1-1 draw with Eintracht Frankfurt earlier this season. “If it’s even possible, I’m more up for it and more enthusiastic than back then,” beamed Prinzen, who is still waiting to find out whether first-team regulars Per Nilsson, Timothy Chandler and Markus Feulner will be fit in time to feature on Saturday. “Mainz are a good team that play attractive and organised football. I know the responsibility and I, like my players, will give it my all.”
Hertha Berlin - Eintracht Braunschweig
Having gone into the winter break sitting in the European qualification spots, Hertha Berlin are now the out-of-form team in Germany’s top flight having collected just ten points from a possible 42 since the turn of the year. However, though head coach Jos Luhukay admitted that this was “the first time the second half of the season hasn’t matched the success of the first”, he was quick to point out that he wouldn’t “judge the season based on the Rückrunde”.
Only the bottom three have collected fewer points on home soil than the capital city side, a fact Luhukay is intent on changing. “We haven’t won at home this year, which means we’ve got to throw everything at [Braunschweig],” explained the Dutchman, who confirmed that Adrian Ramos will feature, while Ronny’s inclusion was “doubtful”. “The key will be converting our chances, we want to start making our opportunities in front of goal count.”
Braunschweig still believe
They may be propping up the Bundesliga standings, but with just two points separating Braunschweig and 16th-placed Hamburger SV, last season’s Bundesliga 2 runners-up haven’t given up hope of pulling off a miracle. “We’ve got a chance to win [against Hertha] and we want to take it,” said former Manchester City FC prospect Omar Elabdellaoui. “We want to show everyone what we’re capable of. It’s been a hard season, but everything is possible. We believe!”
Only once in Bundesliga history has the side sitting in 18th place at the end of Matchday 31 gone on to secure survival. A mini-training camp in Neuruppin looks to have done the Lions a world of good, but head coach Torsten Lieberknecht was adamant that “it doesn’t guarantee we’ll be successful on Saturday”. The 40-year-old, who admitted he’ll “take no risks” with top goalscorer Domi Kumbela, stressed the importance of focus with survival still within their reach. “We’re anticipating Hertha being intent on returning to winning ways, but we’re well prepared.”
1899 Hoffenheim - Eintracht Frankfurt
On paper, 1899 Hoffenheim have been the definition of average, racking up ten wins, ten draws and eleven defeats, but in reality their performances have been nothing short of breathtaking, with encounters involving the Sinsheim side averaging over 3.5 goals per game. “Our stadium will be sold out,” said head coach Markus Gisdol at his pre-match press conference. “We have won five of our six home games this year and long may that continue.”
However, Gisdol is aware that Frankfurt have had “a bit of a revival in the second half of the season and they’re playing good football”, which will require captain Andreas Beck and Co. to be on their toes. “You could say that matches against Eintracht are always hard-fought and full of passion,” said Beck, who signed a contract extension with the club earlier this week. “We have always had to work hard to pick up points.”
Joselu raring to go
Indeed, Frankfurt are a side whose battling qualities do not go unnoticed, but having suffered two defeats on the trot for the first time in 2014, the Eagles will be keen to return to winning ways against Hoffenheim. Pirmin Schwegler is on the verge of making his 100th appearance, while Martin Lanig, who scored in last week’s loss to Hannover, is expected to face off with his former club, against whom he is yet to lose in the Bundesliga.
One man particularly keen to impress will be Spanish striker Joselu, on loan from the Sinsheim side and banging in the goals for Eintracht. “I have found a sense of trust here and am very happy,” said the 24-year-old. “I love this city and this club.” The man that has brought the best out of the Spaniard, coach Armin Veh, pulled no punches following his side’s disappointing 3-2 loss against Hannover 96 last week. “We’ll have to present ourselves as a different team tomorrow,” said the veteran head coach. “Our situation hasn’t changed. We’ve got to get stuck in or else we’ll run into problems.”