Cologne - Points could hardly be more precious on Saturday afternoon of Matchday 26 as a trio of clubs battling against the drop host three sides with their eyes firmly fixed on European qualification (kick-off: 15.30 CET/14.30 GMT).
1. FC Köln - SV Werder Bremen
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Although they have oscillated between 10th and 13th in the standings since Matchday 8, 1. FC Köln know that one bad weekend of results could signify a serious relegation battle going into the final rounds of the campaign. A positive outcome on home soil against Bremen, to follow Matchday 24’s 4-2 win over Eintracht Frankfurt, would go a long way to easing any lingering worries around the Rheinenergiestadion.
Even after five games unbeaten on home soil, Billy Goats’ head coach Peter Stöger is nothing but wary of Saturday’s revitalised opponents. "Bremen have a great balance," explained the Austrian, who is likely to recall Kevin Wimmer after suspension. "They got themselves out of the bottom half of the table really quickly, but we want to take our positive performances from the last few weeks and put some more points on the board."
Europa League aim
The Grün-Weißen head coach, Viktor Skripnik, who took charge after Köln prevailed 1-0 in Bremen on Matchday 9, sent his players a warning shot ahead of the trip to North-Rhine Westphalia, despite only having lost to FC Bayern München and VfL Wolfsburg so far in the Rückrunde. "Köln have stabilised recently," explained the Ukrainian. "It’ll be an extremely difficult game."
Although cautious, with the return of club top-scorer Franco Di Santo from suspension, Skripnik has plenty of reasons to be optimistic. "We’ve beaten good teams this year and put in good performances," he added. "I have to trust the team that we can qualify for the UEFA Europa League, although to do that we absolutely must win."
SC Freiburg - FC Augsburg
Three consecutive defeats, including by a 3-0 scoreline against VfL Wolfsburg last time out, mean that SC Freiburg begin Matchday 26 a place from the bottom. Perhaps even more worryingly for head coach Christian Streich is that his side have only found the net three times since the start of February. "We have to be a little bit more clinical," explained the 49-year-old. "That little bit of precision has been missing."
One man who could help put an end to those struggles is Nils Petersen, whose hat-trick in the first game of the Rückrunde offered Schwarzwald Stadion regulars a glimpse of his talent, before injury struck. "He’s certainly an option to come back into the squad," explained Streich, whose side have lost their last three against die Fuggerstädter.
Personnel worries for Weinzierl
After a 2-0 home defeat to 1. FSV Mainz 05 last time out, Augsburg mastermind Markus Weinzierl has some personnel issues to overcome in order to get his sixth-placed side’s European hunt back on track. "Halil Altintop has a few problems and is not yet at 100 per cent," he explained. The absence of the Turkish international’s creativity against an opponent "who will put everything on the line to win", would be a blow.
Altintop’s fellow attacker, Caiuby, who opened his Bundesliga account in Matchday 22’s draw with Bayer 04 Leverkusen, should feature despite a broken nose. FC Bayern München loanee Pierre-Emile Höjbjerg is likely to be recalled to the starting line-up against an opponent Weinzierl expects "not to be as defensive as Mainz, but who will look to show their strength on home turf".
SC Paderborn 07 - TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
Yet to score a goal on home turf in the Rückrunde, Paderborn are desperate to avoid slipping into the automatic relegation spots for the first time when welcoming Hoffenheim to the Benteler Arena. "We played like a relegated side in waiting," responded coach Andre Breitenreiter when asked about his side’s performance in the 4-0 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt last weekend. The 41-year-old, however, said that the key for his charges to pick up a first victory since Matchday 21 was "keeping our heads high".
"We’re well prepared going into this one," he explained, "and we don’t want to throw away what we’ve worked so hard for over the last 18 months. The lads have been giving everything in training." Breitenreiter will likely return to the solidity of a 4-1-4-1 system against the free-flowing visitors, particularly in the absence of Moritz Stoppelkamp.
'This one will be a particular challenge'
Despite Paderborn conceding 15 unanswered goals in their last four games, Hoffenheim coach Markus Gisdol, whose side could move into the Europa League qualification slots with victory, is taking nothing for granted. "Paderborn have picked up too few points for their positive performances recently," he explained. "It is a 50-50 game."
Indeed, even in spite of beating Saturday’s opposition 1-0 on Matchday 9, Gisdol believes that "this one will be a particular challenge". The tactician is likely to select a different line-up to the one which overcame Hamburger SV 3-0 on home soil last time out, with Pirmin Schwegler suspended and wide-men Steven Zuber and Sejad Salihovic injured.