Coming up on the Bundesliga Preview Show this week...
The battle against relegation this season looks like it could involve quite a spread of teams even by the standards of the habitually congested lower regions of the Bundesliga table. All of eight points separate 1. FC Köln - ostensibly comfortable in 11th place - and current cellar-dwellers VfB Stuttgart, meaning a couple of defeats for the one and victories for the other would change their respective outlooks dramatically. Sandwiched in between are seven other clubs in the same precarious situation heading down the final season straight, Bundesliga ever-presents Hamburger SV once again among them. We take a look at the latest permutations in the wake of the Matchday 24 action.
It's third against first on the 2015 form table when Werder Bremen play host to FC Bayern München on Saturday and it has been a few years now since a meeting of these two old-time rivals has generated such widespread interest in advance. As Bayern racked up another three points in their relentless defence of the title at Hannover 96 last weekend, Bremen got back to winning ways themselves at SC Freiburg's expense. For much of the opening decade of the millennium, this was as big and as personal as duels got in the Bundesliga, with Werder more often than not there or thereabouts when the men from Munich were honing in on the main domestic prize once again. A North-South classic, distinctly one-sided of late, promises to make a centre-stage comeback at the Weserstadion on Matchday 25.
For one player, this can never be a game like any other. Werder Bremen was Claudio Pizarro's first European stop-off in 1999 and, with the exception of a brief foray into the Premier League with Chelsea FC, he has been a Bundesliga superstar ever since. 29 goals in two seasons for the Green-Whites had FC Bayern München paying big for his services in 2001 and over the next six years, the Peruvian sharpshooter hit the net 71 times for the record champs in the league. Back at Bremen via Chelsea, initially on loan, Pizarro was even more prolific, bagging 60 goals in just over 100 appearances. That in turn prompted Bayern to move for him again in the summer of 2012 and while his role these days tends to be that of an impact sub, the veteran striker with more Bundesliga goals to his name than any other foreign player is relishing the prospect of perhaps getting one more taste of that special Weserstadion atmosphere.
Asked recently, and not for the first time, about his chances of winning the Bundesliga top scorer's cannon this season, Alexander Meier stuck to his own prediction that Arjen Robben would be the one getting his hands on it in May. And while he might not be revising that assessment quite yet, two more goals on an otherwise disappointing road trip to 1. FC Köln saw the Eintracht Frankfurt old hand leapfrog FC Bayern's Flying Dutchman to return to the top of the individual scoring chart after Matchday 24. With 18 goals from 21 starting appearances and two more off the bench, the 32-year-old attacking all-rounder's eleventh year at Frankfurt is proving to be his most fruitful yet. His unerring nose for goal seems a perfect fit, after all, for head coach Thomas Schaaf's forward department.
Abdul Rahman Baba joined FC Augsburg last August, a day after scoring his first two league goals for SpVgg Greuther Fürth in their 5-1 Bundesliga 2 trouncing of Franconian rivals 1. FC Nürnberg. Signed as a replacement for Hamburg-bound Matthias Ostrzolek, the 21-year-old Ghana international has been a fixture at left-back in Markus Weinzierl's team ever since, chipping in further up the pitch with four assists and carving out 30-odd scoring opportunities all-told. In stark contrast to his first taste of top-flight action, which ended in relegation with Fürth, Baba this time around is a key figure in an Augsburg side currently flying at unprecedented heights. After four games without a win, their 1-0 victory over second-place VfL Wolfsburg at the weekend lifted the Bavarian Swabians back into the top six and with ten games to go, Baba and Co are remarkably just two points shy of the UEFA Champions League qualifying slot.