Cologne - Intrigue abounds in Germany’s top flight on Matchday 19, as the marquee signing of the Bundesliga winter transfer window gears up for his debut and a quartet of struggling clubs jostle for position above the drop zone.
VfL Wolfsburg - TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
bundesliga.com has the lowdown on what to expect from around the grounds on Saturday at 15:30 CET / 14:30 GMT…
All eyes will be on new Wolfsburg signing at the Volkswagen Arena, with the World Cup winner widely expected to slot straight into the Wolves’ starting XI, even if it is not yet clear where he will play. As if that were not enough, this is a match between two attack-minded sides that promises to be a gripping spectacle, and if previous meetings are anything to go by, it will not disappoint.
There has never been a goalless draw when these sides have met and the fixture currently averages exactly four goals per game. “If we don’t give it 100 per cent then it’ll be tough,” said coach Dieter Hecking at his pre-match press conference. “But we know we’re capable of beating them.” The 50-year-old will be without Timm Klose and Xizhe Zhang, while Ivan Perisic is doubtful as the Bundesliga’s second-placed side aims to keep the pressure up on league leaders FC Bayern München.
Hecking’s Hoffenheim counterpart Markus Gisdol has likewise been deprived of two members of his first-team squad, with Sebastian Rudy suspended and Sven Schipplock suffering with tonsillitis.
Nevertheless, the coach is confident his charges, currently in seventh, can record a positive result, despite starting the Rückrunde with two consecutive defeats. “We’re not happy with the results but we weren’t outplayed,” said Gisdol. “We always look good when we play our own game. We can’t let Wolfsburg dictate terms to us. They’re a top team with great individual players.”
1. FSV Mainz 05 - Hertha Berlin
Just four points and five rungs of the Bundesliga ladder separate these two in the lower reaches of the standings, yet both go into the game with reason for optimism. After ending 2014 with a whimper - taking just four points from their eight matches leading up to the winter break - Mainz have started 2015 in fine style, thumping SC Paderborn 5-0 and drawing 1-1 away to Hannover 96.
“We’ve developed our game since the first half of the season and are on the right track,” said coach Kasper Hjulmand, who can recall fit-again Shinji Okazaki to the team. However, the game comes too soon for Christoph Moritz, Todor Nedelev, Jonas Hofmann and Joo-Ho Park, while Jairo is doubtful after picking up a knock in training.
Debuts in Hertha dugout
Hertha finished last year in similar fashion to their Matchday 20 hosts but have not been able to mirror their upturn so far in 2015, losing their first two games without scoring to fall to 17th place. That turn of events cost Jos Luhukay his job as head coach, with the club appointing fan favourites Pal Dardai and Rainer Widmayer in his stead.
“The team has got a lot of quality,” said Dardai at his official presentation on Thursday. “We need to go into the match willing to fight.” That task has been made all the more difficult given the number of absentees: Salomon Kalou (Africa Cup of Nations), Tolga Cigerci (fitness), Änis Ben-Hatira (foot), Alexander Baumjohann (cruciate ligament), John Heitinga (trapped nerve) and Sebastian Langkamp (suspended) are all unavailable.
1. FC Köln - SC Paderborn 07Considered by many to be the two primary candidates for automatic relegation at the start of the season, this promoted duo have upset the odds so far in 2014/15 to keep their heads above water through a blend of hard work, discipline and team spirit.
As such, Köln boss Peter Stöger is anticipating a tough afternoon on the Rhine. “We always struggle against Paderborn,” said the Austrian tactician. “They’re in a difficult situation at present and I’m sure we’ll get our chances to score, but they’re a very compact, coherent team.” Stöger has a full squad to choose from apart from newly signed striker Deyverson, who will begin first team training on Monday.
Poor away form
Paderborn coach Andre Breitenreiter - who likewise has virtually all hands on deck, with just midfielder Patrick Ziegler missing due to illness - is keen to turn his side’s fortunes around after starting 2015 with two defeats. “We still believe in our own strengths. In our winter friendlies we managed to avoid conceding inside the first 15 minutes and we need to do that again. Köln have struggled at home so we need to try and take advantage of that.”
That will be easier said than done, as Paderborn have one of the worst away records in the Bundesliga, having won just once and lost five times on the road this season. To make matters worse, Elias Kachunga and Co. have only found the net six times away from home, conceding 20.