Cologne - With little or no room to manoeuvre in the Bundesliga standings, Saturday afternoon’s fixtures (kick-off 15:30 CET/14:30 GMT) put pivotal points on the line that could shed further light on what fate has in store for six top-flight competitors.
FC Schalke 04 - SV Werder Bremen
bundesliga.com previews three undeniably intriguing encounters which include a visit of 2015's top side SV Werder Bremen to FC Schalke 04 and two regional derbies…
Fresh from suffering a 2-0 defeat to Real Madrid CF in their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg on Wednesday, FC Schalke 04 have no time to rest on their laurels as they welcome SV Werder Bremen to the Veltins Arena.
The Royal Blues are unbeaten in nine (seven wins, two draws) against this weekend’s visitors, but head coach Roberto Di Matteo is taking nothing for granted. “Bremen have a very good counter-attacking game, are dangerous from set-pieces and have strikers who are in good form,” said the 44-year-old, who went on to outline where he thought the game would be won and lost. “I think it’s going to be crucial to score the opening goal in this game. We’ve got to take our chances.”
Easier said than done for a Schalke side whose focus on keeping things tight at the back has seen the goals dry up for the likes of their leading scorer Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting since the turn of the year, most recently in the 1-0 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt. Werder have had no such problems in 2015, scoring at least twice in all of their Rückrunde fixtures, including last weekend’s 3-2 victory over FC Augsburg, and could move within two points of Schalke with a win on Saturday, which would be their sixth in a row.
Five straight wins, a feat last achieved by die Grün-Weißen eight years ago, has seen Bremen collect more points in that time frame than they had in the opening 16 fixtures of the current campaign. Head coach Viktor Skripnik, however, has his feet firmly planted on the ground. “We’ve raised our game and presented ourselves in a really positive light,” explained the Ukrainian former Bremen left-back. “Therefore I’m really calm about the game on Saturday and excited to see what the team will do.”
1. FSV Mainz 05 - Eintracht Frankfurt
What better introduction to Germany's top tier for new 1. FSV Mainz 05 head coach Martin Schmidt than the Rhine-Main derby with mid-table Eintracht Frankfurt. The 47-year-old was promoted from the Under-23s following the dismissal of Kasper Hjulmand earlier in the week, in light of a miserable run of form that saw the 05ers collect just one win from their last 13 league assignments.
“We’ll face an attacking team with really strong forwards,” a wary Schmidt explained. “We can’t allow ourselves any mistakes. We have to win the one-on-one situations and turn the game in our favour. We’ll continue to build on the aspects to our game that went alright. We want to be more aggressive in our pressing. I might change the team accordingly.”
’A new beginning’
The new Mainz tactician admitted he wasn’t yet sure whether or not Greek goalkeeper Stefanos Kapino would keep his place in the starting line-up after filling in for suspended No1 Loris Karius in last Friday’s 4-2 defeat at Borussia Dortmund. Leading scorer Shinji Kagawa is fit to play, but Frankfurt captain and Japanese compatriot Makoto Hasebe is suspended.
“It was a bit tiring [after the Asian Cup] but now everything is fine again,” Okazaki told club website www.mainz05.de ahead of the clash against Frankfurt, who beat Schalke 1-0 last week. “We’re in the middle of a relegation battle so it’s important that you hold your nerve […] Aside from the anticipation and excitement ahead of the derby, it’s been an exciting time for us because of the managerial change. It's a fresh start.”
SC Freiburg - TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
SC Freiburg were bottom of the table this time last month, but two wins from four games in 2015 have helped them up to 16th and to within a point of 14th-placed Mainz. As many as nine teams currently appear to be battling to keep they heads above water and die Breisgauer players know full well how important a good run of results could be to their relegation-dodging cause.
“We want to draw on the confidence we took from the win in Berlin,” affirmed Freiburg midfielder Felix Klaus after opening the scoring in last Sunday’s 2-0 success in the capital. “We have to be at 100 per cent again. There are always loads of goals in games with Hoffenheim; it’s going to be a really interesting game.”
Baumann’s old flame
The fact it’s a Baden-Württemberg derby adds further intrigue to the clash, and only a week after seventh-in-the-table TSG Hoffenheim 1899 nicked a 2-1 win over fellow south-west club Stuttgart at that. 24-year-old goalkeeper Oliver Baumann made a name for himself in Germany’s sunshine city, but he’ll be walking out at the Schwarzwaldstadion in Hoffenheim colours on Saturday, searching for his first clean sheet of the year.
“I spent 14 years playing for Freiburg," Baumann said. "I’m sure I’ll have the opportunity to meet up with some of the people I know there. The only thing that matters, though, is coming away with the three points. Every goal I concede annoys me, it doesn’t matter how it’s scored.”