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TSG 1899 Hoffenheim - FC Schalke 04
Improving Schalke travel to Hoffenheim's WIRSOL Rhein-Neckar Arena on the back of a five-match unbeaten run in all competitions. Jens Keller's men got the better of Ruhr district rivals Borussia Dortmund in the Revierderby last time out, while the unbowed Kraichgauer were held to a goalless draw at 1. FSV Mainz 05.
"It's been a season of ups and downs for Schalke so far," explained Adam Szalai, who spent 12 months at the Veltins Arena before moving to Sinsheim in the summer. "They've been average in the league, were strong against Chelsea in the Champions League, beat Dortmund, and then drew 1-1 against Maribor at home. No one uses the word 'crisis' like up in Gelsenkirchen."
'A bit tired'
The purported bad times behind them, Schalke will nevertheless have to overcome a miserly record against the Kraichgau-based club, who are unbeaten in six home meetings with the men from the old mining communities of Gelsenkirchen. Then there's that little matter of a European hangover following Tuesday's exploits in the UEFA Champions League.
"Schalke have played a lot of matches in a short period of time," said TSG head coach Markus Gisdol. "As a result, they may be a bit tired. If that's the case, we need to exploit it. We don't really know what to expect, though. There's not often a middle ground at Schalke; they're something of an all or nothing kind of side."
Bayer 04 Leverkusen - SC Paderborn 07
The fixtures have also been piling up of late for Leverkusen, who hit their straps in Europe this past week with an exemplary attacking display against Portuguese champions SL Benfica. Paderborn are next in town, looking to arrest a two-match losing run following defeats to Bundesliga leaders FC Bayern München and second-placed Borussia Mönchengladbach.
"We played brilliantly last weekend and still came away with nothing," recalled Paderborn head coach Andre Breitenreiter. "When you're playing at this level, the smallest mistakes are punished. That's why we have to be completely switched on for the entire game. Anyone who saw Leverkusen against Benfica on Wednesday knows exactly how good they can be."
'A tough side'
Die Werkselfearned plaudits the world over following their rampant 3-1 win in midweek, but the result came at a cost. German international midfielder Lars Bender faces a late fitness test, while Sebastian Boenisch has already been ruled out through injury.
"We'll need to put in a big performance if we're to come away with the three points," affirmed head coach Roger Schmidt. "Paderborn are a tough side that defend well. They gave Bayern and Gladbach a real run for their money, even though they didn't win the games. We won't underestimate them."
SV Werder Bremen - SC Freiburg
Toiling at the foot of the table, meanwhile, Bremen and Freiburg lock horns in a game that, were it scheduled for the business end of the campaign, could only be labelled as a relegation six-pointer. Both sides are winless in six, with Robin Dutt's Green-Whites having already shipped a league-high 15 goals.
"We obviously want to make up for the defeats," said Bremen's head coach at Thursday's pre-match press conference. "We're all very determined and have been working hard in training, which is exactly what I want to see. We want the three points - regardless of how we get them. Nothing else will do."
Freiburg, for their part, have adopted a similar stance ahead of Saturday's must-win trip to the Weserstadion. Christian Streich's side have drawn four and lost two in the league so far this season, but it's their low-key strike rate of six goals in as many outings - the fourth lowest tally in the league behind VfB Stuttgart (four), 1. FC Köln (two) and Hamburger SV (one) - that's the real issue.
"We know where we need to improve," intoned Breisgauer captain Julian Schuster. "We haven't been playing badly and might have picked up a couple more points had the decisions gone our way. It would've been nicer to have won already, but we're confident we can get ourselves back on track. We know how important Saturday's game is going to be."